ORCHARD PARK, New York (Reuters) - Matt Hasselbeck fired a 15-yard touchdown strike to Nate Washington with 63 seconds to play, lifting the Tennessee Titans to a wild 35-34 comeback win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Running backs Chris Johnson and Jamie Harper both rushed for a pair of scores as the surging Titans recorded back-to-back wins for the first time this season to jump back into the playoff chase in the AFC South with a record of 3-4.
Hasselbeck, making a third straight start in place of injured Jake Locker, completed 22-of-33 passes for 205 yards but saved his best for last when he found Washington cutting across the middle for the winning score to stun the capacity crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
”That was a money throw and a money catch,“ Titans head coach Mike Munchak told reporters. ”That was just guys making plays when you have to make them and then the defense answering.
”At the end there, when we had to find a way to win it, all the phases came together to win it again.
“I think that is what the players see; they start believing in each other.”
Johnson, who rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2009, was back in stride following a stuttering start to the season as he rumbled for 195 yards on 18 carries, including an electrifying 83-yard dash in the opening quarter.
In contrast, both of Harper’s scores came on one-yard dives.
The Bills began the day in a four-way tie with the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets for top spot in the AFC East, all level with records of 3-3, and had looked ready to emerge from a wild-and-woolly afternoon with at least a share of the division lead.
Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had a big day, completing 27-of-35 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns, but also had one interception at the worst time.
Leading 34-28 with just over three minutes left on the clock, Fitzpatrick was picked off by Jason McCourty near mid-field, the Titans converting the turnover into the game-winning drive.
”I just got greedy in a situation that I did not have any business being greedy in,“ said Fitzpatrick. ”It was a dumb throw, dumb decision by me.
”Third down at the end of the game, game on the line, Chan (head coach Chan Gailey) put the ball in my hands and I threw an interception.
“This one stings, especially right before a bye week.”
In a contest that featured the league’s two worst defenses, both teams were able to flash plenty of big play offensive flair.
The Titans were quick out of the starting blocks, taking the opening kickoff and marching 77 yards with Johnson charging over from 16 yards out.
Buffalo answered right back, Fitzpatrick finding Fred Jackson in the end zone with a three-yard touchdown strike to cap an 83-yard drive.
But the offensive fireworks had only just begun.
On Tennessee’s next possession, Johnson put the visitors back on top with his 83-yard touchdown but the Titans’ lead lasted only as long as it took Brad Smith return the kickoff 89 yards to leave the game deadlocked at 14-14 after one quarter.
Titans kept up the pressure in the second quarter, Hasselbeck engineering an 80-yard drive finished off with Harper powering over from the one before Buffalo would close out the opening half with two Rian Lindell field goals.
Tennessee was on the board first in the second half, converting a Fitzpatrick fumble into another one-yard Harper touchdown.
But Fitzpatrick would atone for his miscue, throwing touchdown strikes to Donald Jones and Stevie Johnson to give the Bills their first lead of the day at 34-28.
Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes