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Bengals’ comeback falls flat in 21-17 loss to Bills

The Bengals looked terrible in the first half, but their second-half improvements weren’t enough to do the job.

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Bengals briefly suspended their friendship with the Bills as they sought to spoil Buffalo’s home opener.

Defenses dominated early in the first quarter. The Bengals front got a sack, three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, and and forced an intentional grounding penalty on the first two defensive drives of the game. Dalton felt the pressure as well, and each of his first four passes hit the turf.

Back to back penalties, roughing the passer on Andrew Brown and a facemask penalty on Clayton Fejedelem, moved the Bills to the four-yard line. From there, Allen lobbed a short, play-action pass to his rookie tight end Dawson Knox for the score with 3:03 remaining in the opening quarter. The Bengals had 12 men on the field for the point after attempt, so the Bills went for two from the one-yard line. Allen found Cole Beasley for the two-point conversion, so the Bengals’ self inflicted wounds quickly cost them an 8-0 deficit to the Bills.

The jabs continued when Auden Tate was called for a holding penalty on the kick return, negating a Darius Phillips return touchdown. The Bills kept the pressure turned up, so Dalton extended incompletion streak to five straight passes before the Bengals punted.

The Bengals also kept up the pressure, but Allen played reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger and seemed to play better because of it. He couldn’t get all the way to the end zone, though, so the Bills settled for a 34-yard Stephen Hauschka field goal with 10:29 left in the second quarter.

Dalton finally completed a pass, but Micah Hyde stripped the ball away from John Ross III, and the Bills got the ball right back at the 38-yard line. After a close call to give the Bills a first-and-goal, Sam Hubbard stripped T.J. Yeldon to get the ball right back. Preston Brown recovered the fumble on the Bengals’ 11-yard line with 7:23 to go in the half.

The Bengals only gained two yards on the drive, so they had to punt. The Bills slashed the Bengals’ perimeter, taking advantage of the lack of speed in the backfield, getting all the way down to the Bengals’ 27-yard line. Hauschka kicked a 45-yard field goal with 2:11 to go before halftime, and the Bills extended their lead 14-0.

The Bengals finally converted a first-down, but only got one so they punted very quickly. The Bills had just enough time to make it to Hauschka’s field goal range. He missed the 62-yard kick with two seconds left in the half, so the 14-0 score would hold going into the locker room.

The Bengals’ first half offense was absolutely horrendous. Dalton was four for 12 passing, with only one pass longer than seven yards in the first 14:58. He doubled his passing yards on the day with a 33-yard hail mary attempt to close out the first half, when the defense gave him a 30-yard cushion.

Joe Mixon set a new season-high in rushing yards in the first half. But because the Bengals were behind the chains on virtually every drive in the half, he only got four carries.

The Bills offense didn’t look exceptional, but Allen’s escapability combined with the fact that their offense controlled the ball for almost 23 minutes certainly did the job.

The Bengals’ continued to pressure Allen, and on a third-and-long, Allen threw the ball up and it fell into the arms of Phillips, who returned the pick to the Bills’ 22-yard line, giving the Bengals the best field position they had all day.

Dalton threw to Tyler Eifert for his first reception of the game, and the Bengals suddenly had the ball at the one-yard line. From there, Dalton kept the ball on a read option and scored the Bengals’ first rushing touchdown of the season with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter. Randy Bullock converted the point after, and suddenly the Bengals were only down by one score.

The Bengals finally found some rhythm on offense, as Tyler Boyd and Ross finally made a positive impact. They were both key in converting third downs, and Mixon had enough running room to get a first-and-goal on the one-yard line. Dalton had an easy completion to Mixon for the one-yard touchdown with 12:27 left in the fourth quarter. The extra point was good, and the Bengals tied the game at 14.

The Bengals followed he doctor’s orders by finding Boyd on third down and getting the ball to Mixon out in space. The drive ended in a Bullock field goal, so with 4:54 left in the game, the Bengals had their first lead since Week 1, now up 17-14.

Allen wasn’t done for the day, though, and he found Knox open for a 49-yard pass to put the Bills in scoring position. The Bengals kept the pressure up but could not do anything to bring him to the ground. The Bills got to the goal line, and Frank Gore pushed the ball through for the score with 1:50 left. With Hauschka’s extra point, the Bills retook the lead at 21-17.

With less than two minutes to go and only a single timeout, the Bengals had the toughest challenge of the season ahead of them. Tate got the Bengals past midfield, and Alex Erickson followed it up with a 12-yard reception to move the ball closer. But Dalton’s last pass of the day was tipped and fell into the arms of Tre’Davious White for the second time in the afternoon to seal the game for the Bills with a final score of 21-17.

The Bengals dropped to 0-3, while the Bills improved to 3-0. The Bengals will be headed to Pittsburgh for Monday Night Football in Week 4.