The Cincinnati Bengals came back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to defeat the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills 23-20 Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Andy Dalton engineered the comeback, going 11 of 16 in the second half, throwing for one touchdown and running for another. The Bengal defense also played up to their third overall NFL ranking, holding the high-flying Bills to just 273 yards of offense and one offensive score.
For the third time in four games, the Bengals won the toss and elected to defer, giving the Bills' offense the ball first. After a couple of quick Ryan Fitzpatrick short completions, Cincinnati forced the Bills to punt. Right away, Mike Zimmer sent blitzers off the edge and put pressure on Fitzpatrick.
After airmailing his first attempt to Jermaine Gresham, Andy Dalton hit Andrew Hawkins on a wide receiver screen. Hawkins, making his first NFL start, took the ball 25 yards into Bills territory. Once again the third down monster bit the Bengals when Andre Caldwell dropped a crossing route that would have picked up a first down. Kevin Huber, who's been Mr. Dependability, pinned the Bills down at their own five yard line with a great punt. The Bengals defense forced a three and out and took over at midfield for their next possession. Andy Dalton overthrew Gresham again and then missed an open AJ Green down the sideline before being forced to scramble out of bounds on third down. Huber pinned the Bills back inside their 20 again.
The Bengals defense continue to pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick. Nate Clements made a nice pass breakup, forcing the Bills to punt. Brandon Tate took it into Buffalo territory and the Bengals once again started a drive in positive field position.
That's when Jay Gruden took to the ground game. After a couple of nice Bernard Scott runs, Cedric Benson converted a third down, rumbling down to the Bills 30. Dalton continued to miss high, overthrowing a wide open AJ Green in the end zone. Mike Nugent drilled a 31 yard field goal to put the Bengals out front 3-0.
The Bills caught a break on their next drive. After Gibril Wilson and Chris Crocker converged to deflect a Fitzpatrick pass, it bounced into the hands of Naaman Roosevelt who took the ball 28 yards into Bengals territory. A third down middle screen to Bengal killer Brad Smith took the ball to the Bengals 31. The Bengals defense would hold, however, forcing a 43 yard Ryan Lindell field goal that knotted the game at 3-3.
On the next drive, the Bengals dodged a bullet. Andy Dalton appeared to have fumbled on a third down sack and Buffalo recovered for a touchdown. An official's review, however, invoked the "tuck rule" and the play was ruled an incomplete pass and the Bengals were forced to punt.
The Bengals defense continued to apply tremendous pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick, forcing hurried throws and scrambles. The Bengals, however, couldn't take advantage of the field position. With 3:10 remaining, Bills DB Bryan Scott picked up a bobbled reception off the feet of Andre Caldwell and returned it for a Bills touchdown. Scott had also returned the earlier fumble that had been overturned, but this one would count. The play counts as an interception for Dalton, but was more of a drop by Caldwell.
Dalton rebounded, finding AJ Green down the right sideline for 58 yards, but the drive quickly fell apart. Cedric Benson dropped a screen pass that would have resulted in another big gain, then Andre Smith was called for a false start. On the next play, Dalton was intercepted by George Wilson when he tried to force a pass over the middle to Andre Caldwell.
The Bills finally showed some explosiveness in the two minute drill. Fred Jackson ripped off a 21 yard run, and after an incompletion, Buffalo protected against a safety blitz and Fitzpatrick found Stevie Johnson for a 44 yard gain down to the Bengals two yard line. Fred Jackson waltzed in from the left side from there to give the Bills a 17-3 lead they would take into the locker room.
So while the Bengals dominated field position in the first half, missed opportunities and turnovers saw them trailing by two touchdowns at the half. Andy Dalton was just seven of 20 in the half and threw two picks. The Bengals defense played an outstanding half, more than controlling the NFL's top offense, but gave up the big plays at the end of the half.
The Bengals opened the second half on the ground and Cedric Benson got loose, breaking off a 28 yard scamper into Bills territory. Then AJ Green made an incredible catch at the Bills seven for 40 yards and the Bengals were in business. Andre Smith, however, committed a false start getting the Bengals off schedule. Dalton and AJ Green couldn't hook up on third down forcing another Mike Nugent field goal that cut the Buffalo lead to 17-6.
The Bengal defense came out strong as well, forcing a three and out on the Bills' first series. A steady diet of Cedric Benson on the ground and short passes to AJ Green and Andrew Hawkins moved the Bengals into the red zone. This time the Bengals cashed in. Andy Dalton found Jermaine Gresham on a corner route from 17 yards out and in ten minutes, the Bengals had cut the Bills lead to 17-13.
The Bills responded with a drive of their own, however. Utilizing Fred Jackson and running out of a more traditional pro set, Buffalo moved down inside the Bengal 30 yard line as the third quarter expired. The Bengals defense stiffened in the red zone, however, and force a Ryan Lindell 23 yard field goal, making it 20-13.
After the teams traded punts, Andy Dalton made a nifty throw to Jermaine Gresham while scrambling to his right, taking the Bengals back on the Bills side of the field. Dalton found Gresham again for 18 yards on a third and eight to get inside the 20. Cedric Benson and Andre Caldwell took the ball down to the three where it was first and goal. On second down, Andy Dalton scored on a well-executed quarterback draw. Mike Nugent's extra point tied the game at 20 points apiece.
Fitzpatrick and the Bills got the ball back, but the Bengal defense came up big once again. On a second and three, Rey Maualuga knifed into the Buffalo backfield, bringing down Fred Jackson for a loss. Then on third down, the Bengals pressured Ryan Fitzpatrick into an incompletion at the two minute warning.
Andy Dalton then had his chance to be hero. Dalton scramble for a key first down that was initially marked short, but changed after replay review. Then a screen pass and running play to Brian Leonard took the ball down to the Bills' 25 yard line. The Bengals called time out with four seconds left and brought Mike Nugent on to attempt a game-winning field goal from 42 yards out. Nugent was true twice (Buffalo call time out on the first attempt) and the comeback was complete.
Dalton finished with 298 yards through the air while Cedric Benson had 104 yards on 19 carries. The Bengals outgained the Bills 458-273 on the day.
This is a big win for Cincinnati, for several reasons. First, it was important for them coming off a home loss last week not to drop two in a row at home. Second, the victory showed the Bengals have some character on this team, rallying after a deflating end of the first half. Finally, at 2-2, the Bengals now have four very winnable games before division play begins in earnest in November. If the Bengals could somehow run the table against Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle and Tennessee, they could very well be 6-2 with the Steelers coming to town.
However, the rest of October plays out, Andy Dalton and the Bengals will savor their comeback today, knocking the Bills from the ranks of the unbeaten.
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