CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 2: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals passes the football on the end around run during the game against the Buffalo Bills on October 2, 2011 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Bills 23-20. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
The Bengals third-ranked defense, led by middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, showed that they don't have a top-five ranking because they played poor offenses in the first three games. The Bills' third-ranked offense struggled at both running the ball and passing as Fred Jackson was often hit at or behind the line of scrimmage and Ryan Fitzpatrick was constantly forced to throw the ball in a hurry due to heavy pressure from the defensive line and linebackers.
Still at the end of the first half, the Bills were leading the Bengals 17-3. It wasn't the defense's inability to stop the Bills offense that was the cause for the Bengals first-half woes, it was the offense's inability to move the ball. Aside from one scoring drive resulting in a field goal, the Bengals offensive drive ended in punts four times and turnovers twice. Those two turnovers were interceptions thrown by rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who looked more like the quarterback who played against the 49ers, a rookie, than the quarterback who played against the Browns and the Broncos, an impressive rookie.
Second-and-10 with 3:20 left in second quarter: The Bengals had the ball on their own 41-yard line after the Bengals defense forced the Bills offense to punt after a three and out. Andy Dalton was in the shotgun with three wide receivers wide left and one wide right. Jerome Simpson was wide left, A.J. Green was just to his right and Andre Caldwell was between Green and the line in the slot position. When the ball was snapped, Simpson went streaking down the sidelines, Green ran a quick five-yard out along with Caldwell who ran the same route, putting him just about four yards behind Green.
Simpson took his man right out of the play. Cornerback Reggie Corner was playing about six yards off of Green and when Green cut towards the sideline, Corner was too far off the ball leaving Green pretty much wide open. However, it wasn't Green that caught Dalton's eye.
Andre Caldwell was being covered by safety Bryan Scott, who was playing much closer to the line of scrimmage. When he made his cut towards the sideline, Dalton threw a pass that was high and a little behind Caldwell. Caldwell managed to get his hands on the ball but Scott had his arm between Caldwell's helmet and the ball and pulled the ball out of his hands. The ball rolled down Caldwell's chest as he fell to the ground and bounced off his legs and right into the waiting hands of Scott, who scooped up the ball and ran 43 yards completely unopposed into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
A case can be made that Caldwell should have caught the pass, after all, he did have both hands on it. However, the pass was thrown too high and behind him. If the pass was throw ahead of him, he would have caught it for a limited gain. Really, though, the pass should have been thrown to Green, who was wide open and could have possibly stretched the play into a first down.
The score was now 10-3.
Second-and-15 with 2:19 left in the second quarter: The Bengals got the ball right back and after a deep pass from Dalton to Green for 58 yards, which highlighted Green's athleticism and why the Bengals picked him in the first round of the draft, the team had the ball in a second-and-15 situation (after an incomplete pass and a false start penalty called on Andre Smith) on the Bills' 30-yard line.
Again Dalton was in the shotgun with three wide receivers left and one to the right. The wide receivers on the left were grouped in a tight cluster just to the left of the offensive line with two on the line and Caldwell between the two about a yard behind them. The receiver on the left ran about five yards and then ran a slant towards the sideline. The receiver on the inside ran a drag route between the defensive line and the linebackers. Both were covered. Caldwell ran a skinny post route down the middle of the field.
Once again, Dalton threw the ball Caldwell's way and once again the pass was intercepted. This time Caldwell was being covered by safety George Wilson who was running behind Caldwell and cut under him once the pass was thrown, making the interception.
Wilson was obviously in a position to undercut the route and instead of lobbing a pass where Caldwell, and only Caldwell, could catch the pass, Dalton fired a bullet right down the middle and right into Wilson's hands.
The interception sparked the Bills' offense who, thanks to a long pass from Fitzpatrick to Steve Johnson, were able to score on a short Fred Jackson touchdown run bringing the score to 17-3 just before halftime.
First-and-10 with 13:49 left in the third quarter: After a 28-yard run by Cedric Benson, the Bengals lined back up at Buffalo's 47-yard line. Dalton was behind center with Chris Pressley and Cedric Benson in the backfield behind him in the I formation. Simpson was wide left and Green was wide right. Dalton took the snap and faked the handoff to Benson on the right side. Meanwhile Green went streaking down the right sideline, being guarded by cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
McKelvin was playing pretty far off Green before the snap to ensure that he wouldn't be burnt if Green was going deep. He was playing so far off that Dalton threw the ball a little short where only Green would be able to catch it. McKelvin took himself right out of the play. Dalton's throw was pretty much overshadowed by Green's catch. Green stopped to catch the ball even though he could have kept running. He jumped up and caught the pass at an extremely high point and landed on his back.
The long pass play set up the Bengals second score, a 21-yard field goal by Mike Nugent which brought the score to 17-6.
Second-and-nine with 5:33 left in the third quarter: After the Bengals narrowed the Bills' lead to 11, the defense forced the Bills to punt after a three-and-out. The Bengals got the ball back on their own 28-yard line and drove down the field thanks to passes from Dalton to Gresham, Green and Andrew Hawkins and runs from Cedric Benson. Eventually the Bengals found themselves on the Bills' 17-yard line in a second-and-nine situation.
After sending receivers to their correct positions, Dalton lined up under center with Pressley and Benson behind him in the I formation again. Gresham was lined up on the left side of the line and Green and Simpson were lined up wide left with Simpson on the outside. Before the snap, Simpson came in motion towards the line and stopped between Green and Smith at right tackle.
Simpson ran a crossing route, Green ran a deep route to the right, Benson ran a curl, finding a hole between two linebackers and Pressley ran out to the right flat. Gresham ran about 10 yards and then cut towards the left sideline in the end zone.
Gresham was being covered by George Wilson, who stands six feet tall and weighs 211 pounds compared to Gresham's 6-5 and 260 pounds. Dalton recognized the mismatch and threw a pass up in the air that was either going to go out of bounds or come down in Gresham's hands. Luckily for us, Gresham came down with it.
The pass was thrown perfectly and Gresham, who was six inches taller than the guy covering him, came down with it just before he would have been forced out of bounds.
After two first-half interceptions, Dalton had successfully led his team to two back-to-back scoring drives, including a touchdown pass to Gresham, decreasing the Bills' lead to only four points.
Second-and-four with 7:57 left in the fourth quarter: After the Bills kicked a field goal to bring the score to 20-13, the Bengals and Bills traded three-and-outs. The Bengals eventually got the ball back on the 20-yard line after Brian Moorman punted into the end zone.
On first down, Dalton handed the ball to Benson who ran for six yards. The Bengals then had the ball on their own 26-yard line in a second-and-four situation. On the next play, Dalton would make the best throw of the game and possibly of his career so far.
The Bengals lined up with A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson wide left and Jermaine Gresham on the right side of the line. Pressley and Benson were lined up in the I formation behind Dalton who was under center.
Dalton took the snap and faked a handoff to Benson up the middle. Green, who was in the slot, crossed with Simpson and ran a fade down the left sideline while Simpson cut towards the middle of the field. Pressley ran towards the right flat after the play fake and Benson stayed into block. Gresham ran down the middle of the field.
Before Dalton could get set and find a target down field, though, he was forced out of the pocket by nose tackle Kyle Williams. Dalton took off towards the right sideline. Right behind him was rookie Marcell Dareus (I think it was Dareus, the play-by-play on my computer is a little grainy).
As Dalton raced to the sideline, Gresham saw that he was in trouble and cut towards the same sideline about 20 yards down the field. Dalton saw him and just as Dareus dove for him and just before he ran out of bounds, he threw a pass on a dead sprint down the field right to Gresham. Gresham caught that pass just before he ran out of bounds.
This pass gave the Bengals a first down and allowed them to drive down the field eventually setting up a three-yard quarterback draw that tied the game at 20.
Dalton looked like a very different quarterback in the second half than he did in the first half. He went from giving up 14 points on interceptions to leading the Bengals to a come-from-behind victory over the only undefeated team in the AFC.
The defense played well throughout the entire game but without Dalton's second-half poise and his ability to convert third downs and make tough throws and plays with his legs, the Bengals would be 1-3 instead of 2-2 and we would be talking about a very different outcome.