Bills a work in progress in preparing to host surging Titans
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Confident and rosy-eyed as Josh Allen might be, the Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback understands he was going to take his fair share of lumps this season.
Allen needed only to refer to the struggles Titans starter Marcus Mariota had in going 3-9 as a rookie in 2015.
“Sometimes you need to make those mistakes and you need to learn by trial and error, so that’s what I’m doing now,” Allen said, when asked about Mariota, as the Bills (1-3) get set to host Tennessee (3-1) on Sunday.
“We’re getting better. I’m learning, I’m growing with every opportunity I get.”
It might not look that way yet for Allen, whose inconsistencies have been apparent since taking over midway through a 47-3 season-opening loss at Baltimore.
After taking one step forward in a 27-6 win at Minnesota, the seventh player selected in the draft took several backward in being sacked seven times during a three-turnover outing (two interceptions and a fumble) in a 22-0 loss at Green Bay last weekend.
The 22-year-old remains undeterred of the steep learning curve he faces while overseeing an offense with a patchwork line, a sputtering ground game and a mostly unproven group of receivers.
“It doesn’t scare me,” Allen said. “I know where I want to be, and I’ve got a long way to improve, a long way to grow. And I’m looking forward to the entire process.”
Mariota might not be a finished product 3½ years since being selected with the No. 2 pick. And yet he’s overcome the challenges of working under his third head coach, Mike Vrabel, and third coordinator, Matt LaFleur, to have the Titans off to their best start since 2013 while coming off a season in which he led Tennessee to its first playoff victory in 14 years.
He earned his fourth AFC offensive player of the week honor Wednesday after rallying the Titans from a 17-3 third-quarter deficit for a 26-23 overtime win over the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Mariota capped his 11th career fourth-quarter/overtime game-winning drive with a 10-yard pass to Corey Davis with 5 seconds remaining.
The Titans have won three straight, all by three-point margins, and Mariota has shaken off a season-opening hand injury to go 42 of 61 for 444 yards passing, with two touchdowns and an interception, along with a TD rushing.
The production might not be eye-popping, which led to Mariota shrugging off a question of the Titans playing a boring brand of offense.
“People can have those opinions. We can’t control that,” Mariota said. “All we can do is just focus on how we get better every single day, and hopefully continue to win games.”
Tennessee already has 12 sacks and 48 quarterback pressures with nine Titans having at least one sack. They intend to continue applying pressure against Allen, who has been sacked a league-most 18 times.
“Every time he comes out there, we got to make sure in the back of his mind he knows it’s possible there’s going to be a chance he’s probably going to be hit,” Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said.
STUCK IN NEUTRAL
The Bills’ once-prominent LeSean McCoy-led running attack has gone nowhere. McCoy, who missed one game with a rib injury, has 21 carries for 85 yards. “The coaches know I want to be involved,” McCoy said. “We’re just trying to figure it out. It’s hard to get the ball a lot when we’re getting penalties, we’re getting first-and-15s, second-and-20s.”
Coach Sean McDermott can only sympathize with McCoy, saying: “I can understand why he’s frustrated.”
The Titans remember the previous time they went on the road while sitting atop the AFC South. Last December, they lost consecutive games at Arizona and San Francisco to cost themselves the division title and a home playoff game. “I do remember those, and we never want that to ever happen again,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said.
The Bills are the one team with a losing record Tennessee will face through the first two months this season, sandwiched between last week’s win against Philadelphia and a visit on Oct. 14 from Baltimore (3-1).
The Titans will be without starting safety Kenny Vaccaro (right elbow). So Kendrick Lewis is expected to start alongside All-Pro safety Kevin Byard. The Bills’ depth at safety could be tested with starter Micah Hyde’s status questionable with a groin injury and backup Rafael Bush nursing a shoulder injury.
Take away a four-quarter stretch spanning the second half of a 31-20 loss to the Chargers and the first half against Minnesota, and Buffalo has been outscored 106-9. The Bills haven’t scored a TD in a span of 102 minutes and 14 seconds, since Allen’s 1-yard run early in the second quarter against Vikings.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.