CINCINNATI, OHIO – Two teams entered Paul Brown Stadium in Week 11 fighting for their playoff lives; only one left with their aspirations still intact. And in a game Rex Ryan described as a dog fight, it wound up being the Bills.
“Clearly we needed this one,” an emotionally drained Ryan said afterward. I knew it was going to be a dogfight, and I wasn’t so sure that it could come down to the last play of the game. That’s what it was.”
Victory, however, came at a price, as Buffalo suffered two key first half injuries to wide receiver Robert Woods and RB LeSean McCoy – who manged to score the Bills lone touchdown of the game on their first possession. Neither would return, leaving the offense deprived of playmakers. It was up to QB Tyrod Taylor and RB Mike Gillislee to as carry the offense the rest of the way, and try as they may, that opening drive touchdown wound up being the only one the Bills would score.
“I feel deflated about the injuries,” Ryan explained. “If we are healthy, we are going to be pretty tough.”
Taylor was far from the quarterback we saw on Monday night in Seattle two weeks ago, finishing with 166 yards through the air, on 19-of-27 passing. He added 39 yards on the ground as well and looked gassed late in the fourth quarter.
As for Gillislee he continued to be a steady force filling in for McCoy, racking up 72 yards on 14 carries.
The start of the game couldn’t have gone any better for the Bills, who forced a swift three-and-out of the Bengals, then orchestrated an eight play, 75-yard scoring drive to take an early 7-0 lead. Tyrod Taylor was five-for-five passing, LeSean McCoy’s hamstring looked as good as ever – ripping off runs of 21 and seven, the latter of which was a touchdown – as they made it look easy.
For Cincinnati, it was quite the opposite start as they began with that aforementioned three-and-out, saw A.J. Green get carted to the locker room with a hamstring injury and were absolutely torched on defense.
They’d regroup though and thanks to a few untimely Bills penalties on their next series – two on third down plays – got on the board with their first touchdown of the afternoon, via a 2-yard scamper from Andy Dalton. Fortunately for Buffalo, Mike Nugent would miss the PAT, keeping them in front 7-6.
The rest of the half could be described as dysfunctional for both these sub par teams. The Bills would lose their top receiver, Woods to a nasty knee injury on their very next possession. Early in the second quarter came away with only a field goal after a Stephon Gilmore interception set them up at the Cincinnati four. Later on, lost LeSean McCoy to a thumb injury, and finally squandered away a promising drive just before halftime, after Tyrod Taylor threw a useless pass towards a well covered Marquise Goodwin in the end zone that wound up intercepted by Bengals CB Dre Kickpatrick.
It was equally as bad for Cincinnati. Mike Nugent would miss another extra point after a Dalton-to-Tyler Boyd touchdown pass gave them a 12-10 lead. Dalton also tossed two interceptions.
I was a complete and utter mess and with both teams lacking the star power on offense, the third and fourth quarter weren’t much better. Really this game came down to who could be less incompetent on offense in the second half. Fortunately, that wound up being the Bills.
Dan Carpenter would nail a 54-yard field goal on their opening drive of the half to put them in front 13-12. Then two drives later used a heavy dose of running to work the ball to the Bengals two, but settled for another field goal following two incomplete passes on second and third-and-goal.
That four point lead was all they’d need, as the Bills defense forced five second half punts – including four straight three-and-outs – then swatted away the Bengals final heave to the end zone as time expired.
Beyond earning the win, Buffalo can find some satisfaction in the fact that their secondary was finally on par with their front-seven on defense. Entering Week 11 the Bills back end had allowed seven completions of 50 yards or more to opponents and had gone four straight games without an interception. They left Cincinnati having allowed just two game-high passes of 21 yards, two Stephon Gilmore interceptions in his bounce back effort, and made Bengals QB Andy Dalton – who was 3-0 with 878 passing yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions against Buffalo in his career – look mediocre.
“Every game is a statement game for me,” Gilmore said of two interception, six tackle effort. “I go out there and try to pay my hardest every game and have a short term memory, so that’s what I’m about.”
Of course his head coach took notice as well. “I’m challenging him to be the player I know he is and he has responded,” Ryan said. “These last few weeks, he has been as good as any corner in the league and that’s [the] type of play we need from him.
Gilmore wasn’t the only player Ryan challenged in the week of practice leading up to Sunday’s game. On the opposite side of the defense, Ronald Darby nearly had his job taken away in favor of Corey White.
He also gave rookie Kevon Seymour some run at the nickel cornerback spot over Nickell Robey-Coleman and got newly signed safety James Ihedigbo rotating in alongside Corey Graham. It safe to say his message was received.
Regardless, the grotesqueness of this game cannot be ignored. It will be tough for the Bills to win many games if any, with the offense going touchdown-less for three quarters, converting on just 25 percent of their third down tired and the whole team accumulating nine total penalties. At the very least though, they lived to fight another day.
“I think we were both two teams kind of teetering on the brink,” DT Kyle Williams said of the win. “We talked about coming in, winning one football game and focusing all our effort on winning this one game, getting ready to go; and we’ll do the same thing again next week.”
It may take that one game at a time mentality to get the Bills back to the postseason after a 16-year hiatus. At 5-5 overall and 2-4 against AFC foes, they still have their work cut out for them, especially with the injuries continuing to pile up.
A date with 2-8 Jacksonville back at New Era field for the first time in nearly a month, awaits next Sunday.
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