By John Wawrow
ORCHARD PARK —
A rejuvenated Chris Johnson is giving the Tennessee Titans’ playoff hopes some legs.
Johnson rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Titans to a 23-17 win over the slumping Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Held to under 100 yards seven times in his first eight games, Johnson now has topped the century mark three times in his last four outings.
He scored on runs of 48 and 4 yards to match his season touchdown total. Kicker Rob Bironas did the rest, hitting three field goals, including a 44-yarder midway through the fourth quarter to put the Titans ahead 23-10.
The Bills (5-7) have lost five straight and are suddenly in jeopardy of going from first in the AFC East to a battle with Miami for last place in the division.
C.J. Spiller had a career-best 83 yards rushing and scored on a 35-yard touchdown run in his second start since Fred Jackson broke a bone in his leg. Receiver Stevie Johnson toned down his touchdown celebration after scoring on a 2-yard catch with 2:58 left to make the game close.
Johnson had been criticized for much of the past week over his celebration in a 28-24 loss to the New York Jets. Johnson was fined $10,000 by the NFL for mocking Jets receiver Plaxico Burress, pretending to shoot himself in the thigh. He was also flagged 15 yards for going to the ground in pretending to be a crashing plane.
This time, Johnson kept his arms to himself and politely handed the ball to the nearest official.
The Titans (7-5) converted two Bills turnovers into 10 points.
Rookie linebacker Colin McCarthy stripped Ryan Fitzpatrick on a fourth-and-3 scramble and recovered it at the Titans 43-yard line. Six plays later, Chris Johnson scored on a 4-yard scamper up the middle to put Tennessee up 17-7.
McCarthy also recovered tight end Scott Chandler’s fumble at the Titans 37 to end the Bills’ first possession of the second half. That set up a time-consuming 11-play, 64-yard drive capped by Bironas hitting a 27-yard field goal to give Tennessee a 20-10 lead.
Johnson had 190 yards rushing in a 23-17 win over Tampa Bay last weekend. Three weeks earlier, he had 130 yards in a 30-3 victory at Carolina.
Johnson rushed for 106 yards in the first half alone Sunday, more than his output in all but two other games this season. His best run came on the 48-yard touchdown, when he found a crease off right tackle, raced up the right sideline and outran defenders Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy to the end zone.
The Bills ran out of time to manufacture a comeback. Getting the ball back at their own 15-yard line with 62 seconds left, their final drive ended with Fitzpatrick throwing three straight incompletions from his 46.
Fitzpatrick finished 29 of 46 for 288 yards.
The back-and-forth first half featured some electrifying and bizarre plays.
Spiller gave the Bills a 7-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter when he beat the Titans to the left corner and cut it up the sideline. He was chased down from behind by Michael Griffin, who punched the ball loose inside the 10-yard line. The ball ricocheted off Spiller’s left knee and was bouncing out of the end zone when the running back made a diving attempt to secure it before sliding out.
Officials initially ruled it a touchback, before reversing the call to a touchdown after replays showed Spiller had control of the ball while inbounds.