Being 3-0 feels good. Being 4-0 would be even better.
That’s the scenario staring the Buffalo Bills square in the face as they get set to square off against the Cincinnait Bengals on Sunday. For the first time since 2008, the Bills can conclude the first quarter of the season with a perfect 4-0 record.
Getting to 3-0 is both a fulfilling and unexpected story that started a year ago when the Bills were the laughingstock of the league. Buffalo started the season 0-8. They were blown out, lost close games and gut wrenching overtime losses. They were the last team to win a game in 2010. Fast forward to present day, and now the Bills are the only remaining unbeaten team in the AFC and one of the three unbeatens left in the NFL.
Just one win from matching their entire total from 2010, the Bills have gotten here in dramatic fashion. After blowing out Kansas City on opening day, the Bills erased a 21-3 deficit at halftime against Oakland, scored 35 points in the second half scoring on all five of their possessions and surviving a late second Hail Mary to outlast the Raiders 38-35. Buffalo one-upped themselves last week, erasing a 15-game losing steak to New England, wiping out a 21-0 early first half deficit and winning on Rian Lindell’s last second 28-yard field goal to upset the Patriots 34-31. Buffalo is the first team in the NFL to overcame two straight deficits of at least 18 points to win consecutive games.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm the Bills’ offense is off to a trailblazing start. Buffalo leads the NFL in points 113, which is the best three-game point total for the Bills in franchise history. The Bills are averaging 37.7 points per game and they’ve scored at least 34 points in all three games this season. Fitzpatrick ranks as the NFL’s sixth-best quarterback and is tied for second in the league with nine touchdown passes. Fred Jackson is fourth among running backs with 303 yards to go along with three rushing touchdowns. He’s tied with Oakland’s Darren McFadden with a 6.4 yards per carry average. Steve Johnson and David Nelson both rank in the top 20 in receiving yards, while Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler each have scored a touchdown in all three of the Bills’ wins this season.
Defensively, the Bills know they can’t afford to keep getting in shootouts and giving up 30-plus per game and expect the offense to out-run-and-gun everyone. Buffalo’s defense is allowing 24.3 points per game, but four of their players are in the top 30 in the NFL in tackles: Nick Barnett is No.6 with 29, safeties Jairus Byrd (27) and George Wilson (24) rank 11 and 12, and Bryan Scott is 30th with 22 tackles. Buffalo’s defense leads the NFL with six interceptions, including two by Drayton Florence.
Cincinnati enters 1-2 and each of their three games have been decided by 10 points or less. They beat Cleveland 27-17 on opening day, but have dropped back-to-back games to Denver, 24-22, and San Francisco last week, 13-8. However, the Bengals remain just one game back from tying for the AFC North lead. The Bengals are averaging 19 points a game, but it’s been the Bengals’ defense that’s gotten off to a good start and kept the Bengals in each of their three games. How often has that been the case over the years? Cincinnati has given up 54 points, and only Baltimore and Tennessee have given up fewer points through three games. The Bengals have allowed 276 yards per game while sacking opposing quarterbacks nine times.
Cincinnati, however, hasn’t exactly slowed down offensive powerhouses. Cleveland, Denver and San Francisco rank 26th, 27th and 32nd respectively on offense in yards gained. In a similar theme, Buffalo’s offense has matched up against the 23rd, 28th and 32rd ranked defenses in the NFL which would be Kansas City, Oakland and New England.
The Bengals will look for a bounce back effort following their 13-8 loss at home against San Francisco that looked more like a Giants-Reds baseball score. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton posted consecutive games in which the rookie had passer ratings above 100, but last Sunday was as different story. After throwing for 332 yards and two touchdowns against Denver, Dalton struggled in the loss to the 49ers going 17-of-32 with 157 yards and two interceptions in the fourth quarter. He finished with a QB rating of 40.8.
After finally ending their 15-game string of nightmare losses to New England, now Buffalo leads hold the longest active winning streak over one opponent, 10 straight wins against Cincinnati since 1988. In seven of their nine games against Cincinnati, Buffalo has scored at least 30 points against the Bengals including four straight. Buffalo’s point totals in their past four games against Cincinnati: 49, 33, 37 and 33. In their last three trips to Cincinnati, Buffalo has averaged 39.7 points per game.
Buffalo is getting a lot of love and a ton of attention. Everyone loves a worst-to-first story, something that’s going on in Buffalo and also the likes of Detroit and Washington. The Bills are on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. They’ve opened eyes and have been showered with early season praise from the national media. Fitzpatrick has been named the NFL Offensive Player of the Month for the month of September. On the heels of his game-winning kick last Sunday over New England, Lindell was named the Special Teams Player of the Week. The league and the media are taking notice. The fans are fired up and there’s a feel of excitement back surrounding Buffalo.
Now, the challenge for the Bills is keeping everything in perspective, remaining humble and focused on the task at hand, the Cincinnati Bengals.