While they could have rebounded from a loss, this Sunday night contest once again felt like “must-win territory” for the Cincinnati Bengals. They answered the bell with a convincing victory over the Bills, asserting themselves further into the AFC playoff picture.
Here are the best and worst facets from the Bengals’ 24-18 win over the Bills.
The tight end group:
In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, many were clamoring for the Bengals to make a move to bolster their tight end room. They didn’t and said folks were disappointed.
It appears that the team’s tight ends heard the chatter, and that, coupled with another call-up of Tanner Hudson, inspired a huge, by-committee contribution. Hudson, Drew Sample, and Irv Smith, Jr. combined for 10 catches, 102, and two touchdown receptions.
We’re waiting to see if this will be a more consistent output by the group going forward, but it was welcomed nevertheless.
Irv Smith Jr too physical and quick for Jordan Poyer to slow with a hand on his arm pic.twitter.com/ExbfVzo3hM— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 6, 2023
A combination of some offensive issues and minor injuries has led to a quieter start to the season for Higgins. He flashed with two touchdowns against the Ravens in Week 2, but other production was tough to come by in subsequent games.
He had a solid game last week against the 49ers but one-upped it this week. With the Bills clamping down on Ja’Marr Chase, Higgins gashed Buffalo to the tune of eight catches for 110 yards.
He’s going to be a force down the stretch.
Finding successful alternative solutions:
As mentioned above, Chase wasn’t much of a factor in this one, so the Bengals needed to pivot to other options. Sunday night showed the team’s willingness and ability to move off of their star and still get high-end performances from many other players.
The tight ends created a 100-yard, two-touchdown performance, while Higgins (a star in his own right) had his own 100-yard output. Tyler Boyd was the team’s second-leading receiver with 56 yards, and Joe Mixon had 67 tough, all-purpose yards along with a score.
Good teams find ways to win when one or some of their best weapons are taken out of the equation, and the Bengals achieved that against a quality opponent.
He can run:
After the game, NBC’s Melissa Starks asked Joe Burrow what he could do on Sunday night, as opposed to other games earlier this year with his calf issue. His response was both funny and frank, with No. 9 saying, “Run. Run.”
Melissa: "What is it you can do Joe, now that you could not do at the start of the season?"— CJ Fogler account may or may not be notable (@cjzero) November 6, 2023
Joe Burrow: "Run. Run" pic.twitter.com/V3RewjuZxj
Burrow’s scrambling ability is critical to this offense. We saw it last week against San Francisco with some of the trademark Houdini plays, and it was on display once again this week.
That feasting defense:
When conversing with the Bills’ coverage team via SB Nation and/or local Western New York radio, the narrative seemed to stem around the Bengals’ defense not being its usual self. Pundits pointed at rush yards allowed and points given up early in the year.
Well, in a way, they were right. This isn’t the 2021-2022 units that thrived on the occasional quarterback sack and more frequent forced punt.
Instead, they are a unit that is thriving off of big turnovers, as they are one of the top teams in interceptions netted this year. Yes, they’re giving up more yards, but they are also adjusting in-game, and when you look at this four-game win streak, it’s littered with timely turnovers they’ve forced on the opposition.
Another curse is broken:
Call Zac Taylor and Burrow “The Curse Breakers.” There have been so many long-standing stigmas this group has shattered in a short period of time, and this was another.
Cincinnati hadn’t won a home Sunday night game since before the game platform moved to NBC. And, while many of those losses have come at the hands of perennial rivals and powerhouses (Steelers, Patriots, etc.), the fact that this one was against one of the better current teams in the conference makes it that much sweeter.
Close the door, please:
It’s the pros—take the wins however you get them. But when you’ve come so close to the ultimate achievement in the past couple of years, you definitely want more.
Oddly enough, over the past two weeks against high-quality opponents, it feels as if Cincinnati had actual opportunities to make these even more lopsided wins than how it ultimately played out. I don’t mean to sound over-confident, especially with the way the year started for the Bengals, but it does feel like they could have had a stronger stranglehold on these contests than how they ended.
It’s more about having that uber-high level of execution when big games come at the end of the year and in the postseason, wherein points have come at a premium the past two years.
Toss plays and running game output:
Look, it’s not for a lack of effort. When you see Joe Mixon run the ball, the tenacity is there, and, quite frankly, this has been one of his better years as a pro back. He’s on pace for another 1,000-yard rushing season, along with six rushing touchdowns and additional receiving stats.
On a couple of occasions Sunday night, Mixon and the offensive line couldn’t get the sweep/toss game going, and it nearly derailed things. We know this offense goes as Burrow and the receivers do, but you have to have some semblance of balance.
Would it surprise you to know that the Bengals’ offense has to lowest overall rushing yards in the entire league? That has to improve.
Ja’Marr Chase’s back injury:
Shortly after Chase bounced on the Paycor turf, back-first, Cris Collinsworth noted on the NBC telecast that Chase would be feeling that one in the morning. Seeing as how Collinsworth played in a similarly-turfed stadium in the city, as well as being a fellow wide receiver, we tended to believe him.
However, when addressing the media on Monday, Chase was subdued and even a bit worried, maybe, as a plan of his work week was TBD. Zac Taylor also declared him day-to-day, so that’s not ideal with a sneaky trap game forthcoming, as well as a daunting road one against the Baltimore Ravens.