Tennessee Titans roll Buffalo Bills in first game after COVID-19 outbreak

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They became the talk of the NFL these past few weeks as one positive COVID-19 test eventually ballooned into a total of 24 cases since Sept. 24. Their originally scheduled Sunday afternoon game was postponed until Tuesday night, marking the NFL’s first Tuesday game in a decade.

The roster was limited, with several players still on the COVID-19/reserve list. They had limited practice together in the lead-up to the game. And their opponent Tuesday was their strongest of the season.

No matter. In spite of all of that, the Titans were opportunistic in their dismantling of the surging Bills, using a mostly well-rounded effort to stifle Buffalo, 42-16.

Tennessee, after an emotional, often-devastating past two weeks, improved to 4-0, their best start since 2008.

Here are five observations as fans — over 8,000 — returned to Nissan Stadium for a Titans game for the first time this season:

Gritty, not-to-be-overlooked effort
The Titans were without eight players who had recently been placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Another two — cornerback Kristian Fulton and outside linebacker Kamalei Correa — were activated off the list ahead of Tuesday’s game but were inactive.

They also were down two assistant coaches.

And several people in and around the league have spewed venom toward the Titans in recent days, pointing the finger at them for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols — despite the NFL and NFLPA still conducting an investigation that has not yet reached its conclusion.

In the face of all that adversity, coach Mike Vrabel rallied his team.

The Titans made MVP candidate Josh Allen look at least something less than that.

They delivered over and over in big situational moments.

And they handed Buffalo its first loss while remaining one of the AFC’s last two unbeaten teams, the other being the Steelers.

A.J. Brown is back
He made that known almost immediately.

After the Bills handed the Titans an early gift — Andre Roberts couldn’t corral a pass that was thrown to his chest, and Malcolm Butler grabbed the ball for an interception — Brown and the Titans capitalized.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit Brown for a 16-yard touchdown pass to put the Titans ahead. Brown, who had been dealing with a bone bruise in his knee, was playing in his first game since Week 1.

The second-year wide receiver finished with seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Field position a major key
Speaking of capitalizing, the Titans made a habit of it Tuesday, using big plays by the defense and special teams to continually set up the offense in favorable field position.

Thanks to two interceptions by Butler and a 40-yard punt return by Kalif Raymond, the Titans needed just 57 yards of offense on 21 of their points, Titans Radio announcer Mike Keith said during the game broadcast.

Additionally, gunner Chris Milton had a couple of impressive open-field tackles on punts by Brett Kern that helped pin the Bills deep.

The only drawback of exceptional field position is what it does to the offense’s chances to pile up yardage. Derrick Henry, for example, had only 57 rushing yards, but he made them count: the running back had two rushing touchdowns, including the game-sealer with four minutes left.

Additionally, Jonnu Smith had two more touchdown catches, bringing him to five through the first four games.

Defense can’t get off the field
One area of lingering concern: the Titans defense on third down.

The Bills were a scalding 11-for-15 on third. It didn’t matter if it was third-and-short or third-and-forever — the Titans just couldn’t get off the field.

Their struggling pass rush is still very much a thing.

Fans return
For the first time this season, the Titans played to the tune of authentic crowd noise.

Up to 12.5% capacity was permitted into the 69,143-venue. Fans were seated in socially distanced groups in both the lower bowl and upper section at Nissan Stadium.

Attendance is set to rise to up to 15% for Sunday’s game against the Texans.

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