CANTON, Ohio _ Preseason games are difficult to gauge, and Sunday night’s 21-18 victory by the Tennessee Titans over the Buffalo Bills in the Hall of Fame Game was no exception.
At times, especially early, the Titans looked sharp - not only donning their baby blue throwback Houston Oilers uniforms but in their execution on offense.
The Titans scored on their first two possessions – one a 40-yard fake punt touchdown run by rookie A.J. Trapasso – and forced a turnover on their first defensive series.
But in other instances, sloppiness showed through, mainly in the form of penalties as Tennessee was penalized 14 times for 132 yards, compared to just three infractions for the Bills for 29 yards.
“You have to look at the overall picture. We had way too many penalties,” said tight end Alge Crumpler. “Our main objective was accomplished, and that was winning the game, but we still have a lot of things we have to iron out and we’ve got four more preseason games to do it.”
Trapasso, a rookie second punter from Ohio State, playing only because Craig Hentrich did not dress out, was perhaps the most unlikely player on either team to score the game’s first touchdown.
But on fourth-and-10 from the Bills 40, Trapasso took the snap, faked a handoff to Michael Griffin on and end around and took off virtually untouched toward the end zone, making a bit of a juke move on Buffalo’s return man with the help of a Ryan Mouton block to score.
“It opened up. Those guys bit in on it, and it was a great experience,” said Trapasso, an Ohio native and former Ohio State player. “I’m just happy I didn’t fall down. I think it was Mouton that went down there and got the returner and it made it very easy for me.”
It was his first TD since high school, but back then he was a star running back at Pickerington High, rushing for more than 3,700 career yards and 50 touchdowns.
After digging into their bag of tricks on the opening drive, the Titans defense and then the offense began to click.
The Bills, in a no-huddle offense, briefly unveiled their high-profile acquisition with a 16-yard pass and an 11-yard throw to Terrell Owens, before an errant throw was intercepted by Griffin. Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson collapsed the pocket to force Edwards into the error.
Griffin appeared to be going down at his own 5-yard line, but handed the ball off to linebacker Keith Bulluck who returned the ball to the 27.
“It was good communication out there,” Griffin said of the pick. “We got a good, strong pass rush from the guys out front. They forced a bad throw, and I just made a play on the ball and brought it in.”
From there, Kerry Collins and the offense moved methodically downfield, overcoming a third-and-15 early in the drive with a 19-yard completion to Justin Gage to keep the drive alive.
From there, Collins and the Titans capped the drive with LenDale White’s 3-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead.
“I thought we got off to a good start tonight,” Collins said. “We executed our offense and played fast out there. We converted a few third downs, which was a good thing, and made some plays in the passing game.”
Overall, Collins hit on 7-of-10 throws for 82 yards and on his only real mistake, was given a reprieve when Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny dropped a potential interception.
After that, Collins and most of the starters retired to the sideline, giving way to backups.
Vince Young’s first series ended in miscommunication with receiver Lavelle Hawkins and a Leodis McKelvin interception returned to the Titans 43.
The defense bailed Young and the offense out, stiffening on a fourth-and-2 pass from the 5, when Cary Williams batted away a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass intended for Shaine Smith.
The Bills managed a 20-yard Rian Lindell field goal on their next offensive series to get on the scoreboard.
Special teams again contributed when rookie Gerald McRath a fumbled punt by the Bills’ Bruce Hall at the Buffalo 37. From there, Young redeemed himself for the earlier turnover, taking the Titans in for their third touchdown, capping it with a 5-yard fade to Paul Williams, who got both feet in bounds just before stepping out of bounds for the touchdown.
At that point, up 21-3, the Titans scored no more but it was enough to hold off a late Bills rally.
Buffalo added a 47-yard Lindell field goal just as the half ended, trimming the lead to 21-6. The Bills added a third field goal to open the third quarter, cutting the margin to 21-9.
Buffalo crept closer when Reggie Corner, who played high school football at Canton McKinley at Fawcett Stadium, picked off an Alex Mortensen pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
Buffalo’s final points came when Trapasso ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety as the clock ran out.
And while the final score showed only a three-point margin, Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck was pleased with how the first unit performed in its two series on the field.
“Defensively, we knew we were going to be out there for two series, and we didn’t want to give up any points, and we reached our goal,” Bulluck said.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher, whose team now plays Tampa Bay in the preseason home opener Saturday night, saw both good and bad in the first game.
“We had way too many mistakes, but we’ll get them corrected. You learn from your mistakes in the preseason. All in all, guys made plays and we executed the game plan per se,” Fisher said.