Published October 22, 2012
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Titans left tackle Michael Roos had a pleasant flashback watching the back of Chris Johnson's jersey disappear in the distance on his way to the end zone against the Buffalo Bills.
For Roos, it looked like something from 2009, when Johnson became just the sixth NFL player to break 2,000 yards rushing.
"It was, and I think everybody has been waiting for him to get back to that," Roos said. "We can see that he can still do it. And it was good for us to have a game like this with that many yards rushing."
How many? Try 195, the third-highest total of Johnson's career, and most since he had a career-best 228 against Jacksonville on Nov. 1, 2009.
Better still, Johnson scored twice — including an electrifying 83-yard run — in a 35-34 win on Sunday.
Johnson finally hit the gas, ending a near season-long slump in which he entered the game with 301 yards rushing and no scores.
And quarterback Matt Hasselbeck delivered in the clutch for the second straight week, securing the win by completing a 15-yard go-ahead touchdown pass on fourth down to Nate Washington with 1:03 left. Hasselbeck, who's 2-1 in three games since taking over for injured Jake Locker, rallied the Titans to a 26-23 win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 11.
All of a sudden Johnson and the Titans (3-4) appear to be in a lot better shape in a tightly contested AFC race than they did after stumbling to a 1-4 start.
"Yeah, I feel like we're stepping up and kind of just giving ourselves confidence," said Johnson. "I think it's showing us what we can do every Sunday."
The Bills (3-4), by comparison, head into their bye week continuing to show what they're incapable of doing.
They can't stop Johnson, who's now combined for 480 yards rushing and six touchdowns in three games against Buffalo. And they haven't been able to stop anyone of late, having allowed 937 yards rushing in their last four games — including 311 against San Francisco two weeks ago.
"Oh, yeah, it's frustrating," defensive end Chris Kelsay said. "It's embarrassing."
What made it worse is that Johnson all but dared the Bills to stop him on Thursday, when the running back suggested he was up for a big game against the NFL's worst run defense.
"He challenged us, and we didn't step up to the plate," Kelsay said.
There's more than defensive troubles the Bills need to address in the two weeks before they return to the field in a game at Houston.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to raise questions about his inconsistency. Though he finished 27 of 35 for 225 and three scores, Fitzpatrick had two costly turnovers that led to Titans touchdowns. That included his ill-advised pass on third-and-6 that was intercepted by Jason McCourty at midfield with 2:57 to set up the decisive score.
Fitzpatrick blamed himself.
"I got greedy in a situation where I didn't have any business being greedy in," Fitzpatrick said, referring to his attempt to force a pass to Donald Jones at the right sideline. "It was a dumb throw and dumb decision by me. Third down, and game on the line, (coach) Chan (Gailey) put the ball in my hands, and I throw an interception. That one hurts."
The interception negated what had been an efficient game for Fitzpatrick, who put the Bills ahead 34-28 with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with 5 seconds left in the third quarter. Jones scored on a 15-yard catch, Fred Jackson had 71 yards rushing and a 3-yard touchdown catch, while Brad Smith scored on an 89-yard kickoff return.
Smith's score came during wild first-quarter stretch during which the teams scored three touchdowns in 30 seconds.
It was the fastest three-score span since the Raiders and Patriots scored three times in 26 seconds on Dec. 14, 2008, according to STATS LLC.
In the end, the biggest TD that mattered was Hasselbeck's pass to Washington, which came with the Titans facing fourth-and-9. Hasselbeck dropped a pass over the shoulder of Washington, who made the catch in the end zone, a step ahead of defender Justin Rogers.
"It's a great feeling," Hasselbeck said. "To pull through once again in a close game for our third win in a game that came down basically to the last play was a great feeling."
NOTES: Titans RB Jamie Harper scored on a pair of 1-yard plunges. ... Bills PK Rian Lindell hit field goals from 31 and 42 yards. ... Johnson's 83-yard run was the fourth-longest of his career, and the 10th that was 45 yards or longer, matching O.J. Simpson for fourth on the NFL list.
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