The Bengals did just enough to make sure they didn’t chance this one, as they grinded out a 24-18 win over Buffalo to complete one of the biggest two-game stretches of the Zac Taylor era.
The Bengals started off the game riding the high of the crowd and decided to receive to start the game. Joe Mixon had 23 receiving yards. Joe Burrow was also six for six with 65 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Irv Smith Jr.
Not to be outdone, the Bills hurried down the field with Josh Allen throwing for 83 yards and catching safety Nick Scott with a pump fake at the goal line. That made his run for a touchdown an easy one, but the quarterback was called for a taunting penalty for pointing at Scott after getting him to jump.
Cincinnati’s offense came right back out and answered with a Mixon touchdown. The drive showed signs of adversity as Buffalo was actually able to get near Burrow a few times. A questionable roughing the passer was also called. One that, if uniforms were swapped, Bengals fans would have been livid with.
However, Cincinnati has watched Burrow get hit worse and later, only to not receive a flag. Ultimately, Burrow answered the call on a 3rd-and-10 with a dime to Tyler Boyd on an out-breaking route with a zero blitz coming.
The Bills and Bengals traded punts after Cincinnati ultimately decided to punt on a 4th-and-3 around the 50-yard line. The defense made up for the punt call with cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt intercepting Allen the very next drive. It was a similar coverage to when he intercepted Allen.
The offense wasn’t able to do anything with it, though, after a myriad of questionable calls erased a third-down conversion and a 55-yard field goal. They ultimately had to punt on what turned from a 2nd-and-1 to a 4th-and-20.
The defense got another quick stop after BJ Hill recorded his fourth sack of the season. The next drive, the offense faced a 4th-and-1. This time, Zac Taylor opts to go for it. Burrow hits Ja’Marr Chase for one of his biggest plays of the game after only recording two catches for negative two yards at that point.
Then we saw some heroics from tight end Drew Sample, who broke out of protection on a 3rd-and-long. No defender accounted for him, so he was able to scamper all the way in for a touchdown, making it 21-7.
The Bills looked like they put themselves into field goal range after a few quick passes against some soft zones from Allen. Then there seemed to be a missed tripping call on Taylor-Britt making a tackle on tight end Dalton Kincaid.
After the next play, both players seemed to be somewhat injured. The next play on third down, Allen tossed the ball deep down the field, but his receiver stopped on a curl route. That miscommunication got an intentional ground call from the refs, which is by the letter of the law, no matter how much some of us may disagree with it. That call took away a 50+ yard field goal opportunity.
That had the score at 21-7 at halftime in favor of the Bengals.
The second half started with Allen leading the offense down for the field goal that lost the opportunity to get prior to the end of the half to get the game within 11 points.
The rest of the third quarter was filled with empty drives from both sides. The Bengals continued to pin the Bills offense deep in their own territory. That changed with a failed 4th-and-5 with roughly a minute left in the third quarter.
Buffalo was making their way into the red zone when Scott upended Kincaid, and linebacker Germaine Pratt (who else) punched the ball out as the tight end started to flip. Pratt had an interception that helped seal the game with an interception last week against the San Francisco 49ers and an interception late in the game against the Arizona Cardinals. When this defense has needed a big play, he has stepped up.
Burrow was able to hit Chase for a 30-yard pass and Tee Higgins for a huge third-down conversion to set up a goal-to-go situation. The offense was unable to find the end zone, but they did add a field goal to make it a two-touchdown lead with eight minutes left.
The Bills took four minutes off the clock, but they ultimately found the end zone. All drive, they were hitting receivers like Kincaid as well as backup receivers. That set up an opportunity for wide receiver Stephon Diggs to beat rookie corner DJ Turner on a go route for the score. Buffalo also converted a two-point conversion to make just a 6-point lead to force Cincinnati to not be able to be conservative with a touchdown lead.
That instantly backfired as Burrow instantly hit Boyd for a huge field-flipping play for 32 yards. The Bengals then ran two more plays to hit the 2-minute warning. It is noteworthy that Buffalo lost a timeout on a challenge during their touchdown drive on a first-down pass that appeared to skip into the receiver’s hands.
That left an extremely important 3rd-and-3 after the break. Mixon took the handoff and was able to bounce it outside, facing defensive end Von Miller to the edge for the game-ending first down.
This was an important win for many reasons.
First, everyone else in the AFC North won this week, which includes the Baltimore Ravens, who are also on a four-game winning streak. The Bills are also obviously fighting for one of the three Wild Card spots as well, so knocking them down to 5-4 really helps their chances, and finally, it shows this team is certainly back to the place where they can absolutely make a run. That is important as they finish off their schedule is filled with other teams fighting for AFC playoff positioning.