Missing starters evident in Bills' humbling loss on national stage

The nation tuned in to the Buffalo Bills' game against the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday night, eager to learn whether this "contender" talk surrounding Buffalo was legitimate.

It'll be a tough sell moving forward.

The Bills were humbled by a rested Titans team in a 42-16 loss, bringing a swift end to their 4-0 start. Few things went right for Buffalo on a night when its offense couldn't finish drives and its defense gave up chunk plays by the bunches.

That same defense was missing two starters -- linebacker Matt Milano and All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White -- and their absences were felt. Titans receiver A.J. Brown dominated White's fill-in, Josh Norman, to the tune of seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown, and Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill attacked the middle of the Bills' defense without Milano, completing 13-of-15 passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage for 113 yards and a touchdown.

After looking like an emerging contender over its first four games, Buffalo came out with a dud of a performance in the only football game on television -- but the season isn't a wash quite yet. Last year's Super Bowl champion, the Kansas City Chiefs, started the 2019 season 4-0 before losing three of their next four games.

But the way Buffalo lost, 10 penalties and three turnovers, is a concern no matter who was on the field. Its 4-1 start marks its second in as many seasons, but with the Chiefs coming to town in Week 6, the Bills' season will be defined by how they respond to an eye-opening loss.

Said coach Sean McDermott: "Doing things that you can't do and expecting to win a football game -- that's what it boils down to ... I'll give credit where credit is do, they were ready to go. We beat ourselves probably more than anything, and that's something you can't do."

Describe the game in two words: What defense? The Bills' offense and special teams didn't do their defense many favors, allowing the Titans to start with a short field on four occasions after turnovers and a long punt return, but that same defense also gave up 5.4 yards per play and 42 rushing yards to Tannehill, alone. Buffalo showed some signs of life on that side of the ball after an impressive second half against the Raiders, but Leslie Frazier's unit is back to square one after a four-quarter disaster in Nashville.

QB Breakdown: Quarterback Josh Allen was far from the version of himself we've seen over the first four weeks of the season, completing 26-of-41 for 263 yards, two touchdowns and a season-high two interceptions. It was his first multi-interception game since Week 4 of the 2019 season and pushed his total to six interceptions over his past 17 regular-season games. He had his moments, willing the Bills to 13 third-down conversions in 17 attempts, and while his first interception was a direct product of an Andre Roberts' drop. His second was solely on him. The MVP talk will probably die down until his next big performance -- if it returns, at all.

Said Allen: "We got punched in the mouth and didn't respond like we should have ... I didn't play well enough for our team to win tonight."

Troubling trend: The Bills were the eighth-best rushing offense in the NFL in 2019; they ranked 28th through four games in 2020 and that number won't get any higher after a mediocre 95 rushing yards against the Titans. Especially considering Tennessee entered the game giving up the second-most rushing yards in the league, it is alarming that Buffalo couldn't take advantage of the matchup. After a promising rookie season, Devin Singletary has struggled to find rushing lanes this season and averaged 2.3 yards per carry Tuesday night. Allen has kept this offense moving through the air but when defenses stop the Bills' passing game, the run game has not shown an ability to carry the slack.