It was a hard-fought and sometimes ugly game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills, but Cincinnati grabbed what could have been a season-changing win. The Bengals overcame three gigantic turnovers and poor weather to get past Buffalo, and they head into the bye week with high spirits.
Pittsburgh and Cleveland lost earlier in the day, helping the Bengals to climb out of the AFC North cellar and a bit more into the playoff picture. Here are the winners and losers from the Bengals’ 20-16 win against the Bills.
Michael Johnson and the other pass rushers: The Bengals found a new role for Johnson in certain packages, and he’s been effective from the inside. Johnson had two sacks and an important late tackle on a LeSean McCoy screen, while Geno Atkins, Carl Lawson, and Vontaze Burfict all had sacks on the day.
Randy Bullock: The embattled veteran kicker did his job for the day. Though it wasn’t a long one, he hit a crunch-time kick 29-yard kick to give the Bengals a four-point lead with under four minutes left and hit both of his extra points. He was also pretty solid on kickoffs, only giving the Bills one opportunity to return a kick for 17 yards.
Vontaze Burfict: No. 55 was everywhere on Sunday afternoon. He had 13 total tackles, a sack and several tackles for loss on the day. It really is a different defense with Burfict in the lineup, even if he came close to more penalties on Sunday.
Joe Mixon: The Rookie running back didn’t quite dominate the day, but he did have two of the most important plays in the game. The first was Mixon’s first career NFL touchdown, a five-yard score to begin the fourth quarter and give Cincinnati the lead for good. Mixon’s second key play came with under two minutes to go and Cincinnati facing a 2nd and 8. Mixon took a handoff and burst to the sideline for a game-clinching first down.
T.J. Johnson leading a poor blocking performance: After letting up a big hit on Andy Dalton, Johnson followed it up by tumbling onto his leg and making him gimpy for the rest of the afternoon. The Bills had just one sack on the afternoon, but the Bengals didn’t have a run longer than 12 yards. Calling the Bengals’ rushing offense "three yards and a cloud of dust" would be generous at this point.
To explain how poor the blocking has been this year, Joe Mixon’s rushing touchdown was the first of the Bengals’ season. Did you happen to watch the gallop, by chance? He also had to elude about three would-be tacklers to get into the end zone. Also, the rotating carousel along the line continued with Andre Smith at right tackle in place of Jake Fisher.
Both teams with their respective injuries: For Buffalo, star tight end Charles Clay left on a cart, while Cincinnati lost Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones on defense. Tyrod Taylor struggled to consistently produce, but still picked apart Cincinnati’s reserves in the secondary at times.
The Bengals’ coaching staff: The two-minute units of Cincinnati before the half was deplorable. On offense, the Bengals ended the first two quarters with an interception, a punt and a kneel down.
Again, the little things just weren’t done correctly by the Bengals, for the most part, though some of it had to do with bad luck. Two tipped passes off of A.J. Green was intercepted and turned into seven Bills points, while the Bengals failed to pounce on a forced fumble that laughably became a Buffalo first down.
After a couple of nice drives leading to 10 first-half points, Cincinnati went into its shell, including another inexplicable penalty for having 12 men in the huddle. Anyone else find it funny that the rain seemingly affected the Bengals in a much more dramatic way on their home field than it did the visiting Bills?
We can go on for days about the issues here, but let’s just touch on one more. The extremely rare special teams penalty with an official running into a Bengals player who should have been well out of his way. In fact, color analyst Steve Beuerlein noted that Cincinnati was probably warned earlier in the game of this issue.
A.J. Green: The star giveth and the star taketh away. Green had an amazing stat line with 189 yards and a touchdown, including the biggest statistical first half of his career, but he also fumbled the ball away and was involved in two interceptions—one of his doing and one on a high throw.