The Buffalo Bills are no longer undefeated and they no longer hold the NFL’s longest streak for victories over one team. The Cincinnati Bengals used a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the Bills 23-20 at Paul Brown Stadium. Buffalo is now 3-1 while Cincinnati pulls their record even at 2-2.
It was a tale of two halves for the Bills. After falling behind early 3-0, the Bills scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter. Rian Lindell tied the game at three with a 43-yard field goal at 13:33 in the second quarter and the score remained tied until the Bills blitzed the Bengals for two touchdowns in the final 3:10 of the first half. Bryan Scott’s 43-yard interception of Bengals QB Andy Dalton went back for a touchdown to give the Bills a 10-3 advantage. Three plays later, on Cincinnati’s ensuing possession following Buffalo’s touchdown, it was George Wilson this time who intercepted Dalton at the Buffalo 19-yard line. Fred Jackson had runs of 9 and 21 yards, and the big play of the drive was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 44-yard pass to Steve Johnson down to the Cincinnati 2-yard line. Fred Jackson finished off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run to make it 17-3 with 40 second left before halftime.
But, the second half was a completely different story. The Bills played with a lead heading heading into the third quarter and didn’t look well playing the role of the hunted instead of the role of hunters the past two Sundays. Cincinnati wasted little time getting on the comeback trail. On their first drive of the second half, the Bengals went 83 yards in seven plays in just over three and a half minutes. Fortunately for Buffalo, with the Bengals at the Bills’ 2, Cincinnati couldn’t finish off the drive with six and had to settle for a 21-yard field goal to cut the lead to 17-6.
On the next drive, the Bills went three and out in miserable fashion with minus -2 yards on just three plays. Cincinnati took the football back, preceded to march 71 yards gaining at least 11 yards on four of the seven plays during the drive. This time, however, Cincinnati hit paydirt as Dalton connected with his tight end Jermaine Gresham for a 17-yard touchdown and the Bengals were back in it, down 17-13.
That’s how the score remained until the fourth quarter when Lindell’s second field goal of the day, a 23-yarder, gave Buffalo some breathing room at 20-13 with 11:22 left to play. The Bengals must have taken good notes from the Bills on how to complete a comeback. This time, just as the Bills did in the closing minutes before halftime, the Bengals put up 10 unanswered points over the final 4:09 of the game.
From their own 20, Dalton engineered Cincinnati on a 10-play 80 yard drive that chewed up 4:19 on the game clock. The Bills had trouble with Gresham, who caught passes of 25 and 17 yards on the drive. Cedric Benson gained 27 yards on the ground and Dalton found the end zone on a 3-yard draw to the tied game at 20 with 4:09 to play.
But, as Fitzpatrick had succeeded in leading fourth-quarter comebacks and guiding game winning drives, he and the Bills fell well short. From their own 20, the Bills started the drive with a first down. Fitzpatrick hit David Nelson for 12 yards, then connected with Donald Jones for a seven-yard pass. Fred Jackson lost two yards on a rushing attempt, and the Bills were faced with a 3rd-and-5 from their own 37. Fitzpatrick threw one deep down the sideline intended for Jackson, but he couldn’t come up with the big catch and the Bills were forced to punt after a questionable call went against the Bills in which the officials ruled that Steve Johnson’s third down catch was incomplete. It would be up to their defense to either force a turnover or force overtime.
Neither option panned out.
Following Buffalo’s punt, Cincinnati started from their own 19 and Dalton gashed the Bills instantly with a 17-yard catch and run to Jerome Simpson. Brian Leonard’s seven-yard run put the Bengals in a very manageable 2nd-and-3. Dalton’s pass intended for Leonard was incomplete, and on third down Dalton’s scramble went for two yards and apparently fell a yard short of the first down. But after Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis challenged the spot of the ball, the call was overturned and ruled a first down. From their own 43, it was Leonard who broke Buffalo’s back. Dalton connected with Leonard for a 15-yard pass play down to the Buffalo 39. Cincinnati went right back to Leonard, and on the very next play Leonard rushed for a 14-yard gain down to the Buffalo 25 with four seconds to play.
Buffalo tried to ice Nugent, but it didn’t work. Nugent booted a game-winning 43-yard field goal to lead Cincinnati past Buffalo 23-20 handing the Bills their first loss of the season. Cincinnati’s win also ends a 10-game losing streak to Buffalo that dated back to 1988. The Bills are 3-1 and pending on the outcomes for New England and the New York Jets, they can do no worse than a tied for the division lead. The Bengals get a big gut check win and more importantly keep pace in the division. They are 2-2 and tied with both Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Total credit goes to Cincinnati. The Bengals controlled the second half of the game and the Bills went stagnant. Despite getting two turnovers and getting their second interception returned for a touchdown in as many weeks, the defense couldn’t make a play with the game on the line. It’s a pattern the Bills are going to have to figure out how to fix. At various points Oakland, New England and now Cincinnati have controlled large portions of the games. Both Oakland and New England dominated the first halves and now Cincinnati completely controlled three of the four quarters in today’s game.
More to come later.