ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson had given the Buffalo Bills fits all afternoon, rushing for 195 yards and two scores — including an 83-yard burst — on 18 carries.
But on the game’s pivotal play, the Titans decided to rely on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s arm and receiver Nate Washington’s hands instead of Johnson’s legs.
Facing a fourth-and-9 from the Bills 15 and trailing by six points with just over a minute remaining, Hasselbeck hit Washington on a streak to give the Titans a one-point lead. Buffalo failed to move the ball on its final possession and Tennessee won 35-34.
It was the Titans’ first road victory in four tries this season and they improved their record to 3-4. The Bills dropped to 3-4 heading into their bye week.
“That was a money throw and a money catch,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said of the winning score. “I think the confidence was there throughout the day because the offense had a good day running it, protecting for the most part all game, and making plays. I think (we) went out there thinking that whoever has it last is going to win, and that’s pretty much how it ended up. That was a huge play; two guys stepping up to win the game.”
It marked the second week in a row and 22nd time in his 14-year NFL career that Hasselbeck engineered a fourth-quarter victory. Starting his third straight game in place of the injured Jake Locker, Hasselbeck finished with 22 completions in 33 attempts for 205 yards.
“The wind kind of took the ball and put it in there nice,” Hasselbeck said of the throw which sailed over defensive back Justin Rogers’ hands and into Washington’s outstretched arms. “Nate made a great catch. It was a great feeling.”
The winning drive was set up by Jason McCourty’s interception with 2:57 remaining. Ryan Fitzpatrick badly underthrew Donald Jones along the sideline and the Titans cornerback picked the ball off at the Tennessee 48.
“(Fitzpatrick) is really smart,” said Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, who forced a fumble on a sack in the first quarter that set up a score. “Watching Buffalo on film, they did a great job converting when they needed to. They did that today, but we were able to come up with a big stop in a crucial situation to win the game.”
Fitzpatrick, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 225 with three touchdowns, blamed himself for the interception.
“I just got greedy in a situation that I did not have any business being greedy in,” he said. “It was a dumb throw, a dumb decision by me. Third down at the end of the game, game on the line. Chan (Gailey) put the ball in my hands, essentially, and I threw an interception. So that one hurts.”
The Titans took advantage of the mistake, driving 52 yards in seven plays for the winning score. A 19-yard pass to Washington and a 27-yard run by Johnson helped set up the decisive touchdown.
Johnson, who struggled mightily early in the first three games of the season, had the breakout game he’d been looking for. The performance continued his remarkable success against the Bills, who have allowed him to rush for 480 yards and six touchdowns in three meetings.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad game versus them,” Johnson said. “It seems like my offensive line comes through when we come down here or whatever. They did a great job of getting on the linemen and getting to the second level of the linebackers and my fullback did a great job blocking all game.”
The Titans took a 7-0 lead on Johnson’s 16-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Hasselbeck completed all five of his passes for 52 yards during the drive.
The Bills answered with a 13-play, 83-yard scoring drive, capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to Fred Jackson on a center screen with three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Johnson responded on the Titans next play from scrimmage, bursting through a wide hole on the left side for an 83-yard touchdown run to put Tennessee up, 14-7.
The scoring fest continued on the ensuing kickoff as Brad Smith tied the game with an 89-yard kickoff return.
The Titans went up 21-14 on Jamie Harper’s 1-yard run with 10:18 left in the second quarter.
Buffalo cut the lead to one on Rian Lindell field goals from 31 and 42 yards late in the half.
Fitzpatrick fumbled on the first play from scrimmage in the second half after being sacked by Wimbley. Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan recovered at the Bills 32. Eight plays later, Harper scored again from the one to put Tennessee up, 28-20.
The Bills reduced the deficit to one point on a 15-yard scoring strike from Fitzpatrick to Donald Jones midway through the third quarter.
Buffalo took a 34-28 lead on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to Stevie Johnson with five seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Notes: After not scoring a touchdown for 11 games, Johnson scored on the Titans’ first two possessions. The fifth-year running back from East Carolina joined Earl Campbell and Eddie George as the only backs in franchise history with 30 career rushing touchdowns. … Bill Polian, the general manager who built the Bills’ Super Bowl teams of the early 1990s, was inducted onto the Ralph Wilson Stadium Wall of Fame during halftime ceremonies. … Tennessee was 0-3 in road games and had been outscored 106-31 away from home. … The first punt of the game didn’t occur until the Titans’ Brett Kern kicked with 1:56 left in the first half. … Fitzpatrick became the fourth quarterback in Bills history to throw at least 70 career touchdown passes.