NASHVILLE, Tenn. – At one point in the second half Sunday, the Buffalo Bills had lost five starters to injury.
Out went veteran center Mitch Morse, and in went veteran offensive lineman Spencer Long, who has 44 career starts.
Out went rookie right tackle Cody Ford – who was pulling full-time duty with veteran Ty Nsekhe out because of an ankle injury – and in went Ryan Bates, an undrafted rookie acquired this summer in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Out went linebacker Matt Milano, and in went Maurice Alexander, a sixth-year veteran with 23 career starts.
Out went defensive end Trent Murphy, and in went rookie seventh-round draft pick Darryl Johnson Jr., who responded with a blocked field goal and his first career sack.
Out briefly went safety Jordan Poyer, and in went veteran Kurt Coleman, who has 83 career starts.
“They’ve done a great job of building depth on this roster,” veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “From the first year of Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane being here until now, this team is much deeper.”
Every bit of that depth was needed in a 14-7 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium. Of the 46 players dressed for the game, the only one not to play was backup quarterback Matt Barkley.
“In years past, I don’t think we would have had this much depth,” safety Micah Hyde said. “This year we do. Unfortunately guys get hurt, but we’re able to bring some fresh bodies in and you saw that today.”
The performances of those who did come in meant there were several unsung heroes. Bates, for example, had never played an offensive snap before Sunday. He ended up playing 20 against the Titans.
“You hate to see somebody go down, but it's an opportunity for me to show what I got,” he said. "I was excited and I thought I showed it out there today.”
“Bates came in and he didn’t miss a beat,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “He was out there keeping Josh (Allen) clean, keeping the pocket clean. We had a phenomenal four-minute drive at the end. For Bates to come in and click with the offense – Jon (Feliciano) stepped up, he played big – that four-minute drive was huge.”
Beane deserves credit for improving the depth across the roster, while McDermott and his staff should be praised for getting those players up to speed and ready to play when needed. No NFL team makes it through a season without injuries, but losing five starters is extreme. It’s the kind of challenge that some teams might not be able to overcome.
“This organization does a phenomenal job of preparing everybody,” Bates said. “Not only the stars, but the backups, everyone's all-in in this organization, and it showed on the field today.”
Johnson was another unsung hero. His block of a 33-yard field goal by Cairo Santos in the fourth quarter was one of the turning points in the win.
The Bills are confident in rolling out two full defensive lines. Every defensive lineman on the roster played at least 15 snaps against Tennessee.
“Everybody's involved in it,” Alexander said. “It really doesn't matter (who is in the game), you have great confidence in them being able to execute their job.”
Game ball: Duke Williams
Bills fans finally got their wish. Williams was promoted to the active roster Saturday, then proceeded to play 51 offensive snaps against the Titans. That was second among wide receivers, just two behind John Brown. On those 51 snaps, Williams produced four catches on four targets for 29 yards. While not overwhelming numbers, two of those catches produced first downs, and the last of them provided the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. As far as professional debuts go, that’s pretty good.
"Give [General Manager] Brandon [Beane] and his staff credit," coach Sean McDermott said Monday. "You see a guy like Duke out there yesterday making the contributions that he made. A lot of credit goes to Brandon on that and his staff. And then the mental toughness of our football team and the preparation of our football team. Not just the starters, but the other guys that came in and stepped in and stepped up. Without those guys, we may not win that football game."
Sunday was a huge win for the Bills. At 4-1, they have a one-game lead over the Oakland Raiders for the first wild-card spot in the AFC. The Raiders and Colts are both 3-2. Cleveland can get to 3-2 with a win over San Francisco on "Monday Night Football." Updating the playoff picture is preferable to providing a draft watch. In case you were curious, though, the Bills would currently pick No. 26 in the first round. It’s been a long time since they had a pick that late.
Quote of the day
“Last week taught me a lot of lessons. I’m not going to sugarcoat it – I didn’t play good last week. I put the ball in harm’s way too many times, you know? But I think it was one of those games where it’s almost needed. I learned a lot from it, and I was able to go out there, and I think if you take away one throw – one stupid decision by me – I think that’s the best overall game I’ve played so far.” – Bills quarterback Josh Allen, on the Week 4 loss to the Patriots and how it impacted his Week 5 performance against Tennessee
1. The promotion of Duke Williams meant Zay Jones did not have a role on offense. Jones played one snap. The rest of the snap numbers for the wide receivers Sunday: Cole Beasley, 42 (65%), Andre Roberts, 12 (18%), Isaiah McKenzie, 8 (12%).
Asked what Jones needs to do to get back in the lineup, McDermott said "he's just got to continue to do his job. You saw guys compete at a high level yesterday. We made some, I thought, really good plays at the wide receiver position. Zay's a guy that continues to grow. I think he's still young in his career, and he'll continue to do a job as he continues to grow and focus on what he can control. I really appreciate the way he took a team-first approach yesterday."
McDermott said he tries to "over communicate" with players when making a decision about cutting their playing time.
"I think that's a big part of being on the same page," he said. "Players, in my mind, function better when there's clarity."
2. Running backs Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon almost had a 50-50 split. Gore played 33 snaps (51%), while Yeldon got 32 (49%). Both made key contributions during the four-minute drive by the offense to seal the victory.
3. There are just two players who have played every snap this season – left guard Quinton Spain and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
4. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander played a season-high 43 snaps (69%). Maurice Alexander played his first seven defensive snaps of the season after Matt Milano got hurt.
5. The Bills continued to use Siran Neal, Kevin Johnson and Dean Marlowe in designated roles in the secondary with nickel cornerback Taron Johnson out of the lineup. Neal played 16 snaps (26%), Johnson played 20 (32%) and Marlowe got 8 snaps (13%).
The Bills will enjoy some down time on their week off – and hopefully get some of those injured players healed up in time to face Miami in Week 6.
McDermott gave the players the rest of this week off. They will return to practice next Monday.
"We talked about this morning, trust," the coach said. "Trust is highly important in building families and in this case building a team. I'm giving them the majority of the week to reset a little bit, get some rest, but also the trust speaks of the things they do, the habits, their behaviors during this time. So they've got to make sure that they understand that they've got to continue to put the team first even though they may not be in our building, all of them. That's important because we need all of them back here safely come the end of the weekend here."
Story topics: Andre Roberts/ cody ford/ Cole Beasley/ Dean Marlowe/ Duke Williams/ Frank Gore/ Isaiah McKenzie/ Jerry Hughes/ John Brown/ Jordan Poyer/ Josh Allen/ Kevin Johnson/ Kurt Coleman/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Matt Milano/ Maurice Alexander/ Mitch Morse/ Quinton Spain/ ryan bates/ Siran Neal/ Spencer Long/ T.J. Yeldon/ Taron Johnson/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Trent Murphy/ Zay Jones