'Jekyll and Hyde' Bills take on Titans

Go ahead, figure out the Buffalo Bills.

We'll wait.

The very same defense that reached Biblical levels of porous -- 97 points and 1,201 yards allowed -- in losses to New England and San Francisco, circled the wagons and gave up just 16 and 332, respectively, in a 19-16 triumph at previously once-beaten Arizona last weekend.

The Bills try to make it two straight this Sunday against visiting Tennessee at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The combined yards-against total versus the Patriots and 49ers was the most in league annals since the long-forgotten New York Yanks were gashed for 1,227 in consecutive games way back in 1950.

Rather than coming home to Western New York after a 45-3 drubbing in Northern California seven days earlier, coach Chan Gailey and his troops spent the week in the desert and it helped against the Cardinals in the form of season-highs in both sacks (five) and interceptions (two).

Offseason signee Mario Williams notched two of the sacks -- as did linebacker Nick Barnett -- and safety Jairus Byrd had both interceptions, including one in overtime that led to Rian Lindell's decisive 25-yard field goal.

"We were away from the distractions and it was just us here in Arizona," Byrd said. "It was a chance for us to soul search (and) get corrected what we needed to get corrected without the distractions of being at home. It was great for us mentally."

Byrd's efforts netted him the AFC's nod as Defensive Player of the Week, and the Bills could get another boost in the return of defensive end Shawne Merriman, who missed all but five games last season with a partially torn right Achilles and was cut in the offseason before re-signing. On the flip side, Buffalo will be without Mark Anderson (knee) and could miss Spencer Johnson (ankle) for a third straight week.

"You can never have too many guys that we believe can rush the passer," Gailey said. "We'd rather not go into a game with just three defensive ends."

Buffalo has allowed 32 points per game through six weeks, second-worst in the league to the Titans' 34 points per game. The Tennessee offensive line has surrendered nine sacks in its last two outings.

Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck started for injured youngster Jake Locker and was sacked three times against Pittsburgh on Oct. 11, but he managed to throw for 290 yards in a 26-23 win.

Tennessee only scored twice on offense -- on a run by Jamie Harper and a catch by Kenny Britt -- but it was a step up from the 21 points it managed in losses to Houston and Minnesota.

"It feels good to win against a good opponent," Hasselbeck said.

Running back Chris Johnson gained 91 yards against the Steelers, but the Titans are last in the league in rushing (70.2 yards per game) and Johnson has a career-low clip of 3.3 yards per carry. The Bills allowed 740 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in the games against New England, San Francisco and Arizona, and Johnson rushed for 153 yards and two TDs in Tennessee's 23-17 win last December in Buffalo.

Meanwhile, the Titans allowed only 56 rush yards against Pittsburgh but face a combination of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson this week that had 141 yards against the Cardinals.

Through the air, Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown just one interception in two weeks after serving up four against New England, but he's not thrown a TD pass since the Patriots game either. Tennessee's opposition passer rating of 107.9 is at the bottom of the league, but the Titans have picked off three passes in two weeks.

The Titans lead the regular-season series, 26-14, including the days when the franchise was known as the Houston Oilers. Tennessee/Houston has won eight of the last 11 games and coach Mike Munchak is 1-0 against Bills coach Chan Gailey.


Against a team with a rejuvenated pass rush upfront and aggressive bump-and- run coverage on the outside, a premium has been placed on quick one-on-one victories for the Tennessee wide receivers, which would allow Hasselbeck to get rid of the ball and alleviate the pressure.

"Everybody has to win their one-on-one battles across the board so everybody can get a chance and get open for Matt, because the quicker we can get open, the faster his release time is and the quicker we can move those chains," tight end Jared Cook said. "They've got good safeties and have some good corners. They like to play a lot of man. They're a physical bunch and we've got to be prepared for that."

Veteran wideout Nate Washington, who has 17 catches, 331 yards and two touchdowns, concurred.

"There's going to be some opportunities, but they're a good defense, have really good safeties," he said. "Their defensive front, their front seven is pretty good. They are bringing intensity and being physical upfront, so we're going to have to make sure we're getting in and out of the things we do and make sure we're getting better with them. There's going to be a lot of one-on- one battles so we'll be ready for that type of situation. I think in our (receivers meeting) room, we pride ourselves in making those types of plays."


It's hard to know exactly which extreme is closer to reality for the Bills -- surrendering nearly 100 points in two weeks, or traveling to beat a one-loss foe in overtime while giving up just 16.

The guess here is that the second option will be more in play this week. Though Fitzpatrick wasn't a game-changer in a dramatically positive way against the Cardinals, he also didn't make the mistake that lost the contest either. If that continues, expect the defense to hold Hasselbeck and Co. down long enough for Spiller and Jackson to make the decisive plays.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 20, Titans 10