I've been spoiled the first few weeks of the season writing these game recaps. Every game not only had a lot of action and fun topics to review, but the games were amazing. In winning the first three games, the Bills already exceeded some preseason predictions of the so-called experts. And they beat the hated Patriots for the first time in 8 years to boot. How long could this last? Every week wasn't going to be such a blast, right?
Of course not. And I don't say that in a cynical, defeatist way that would be too easy. It's just that it's a tight league, the NFL. Parity is king and it's easy to go down in a matter of a couple short hours in just the same way your team rose to the challenge previously. The Bills learned the hard way that they are not a good enough team to make several costly mistakes and glide to victory week after week.
Yesterday the wind came out of our sails a bit. Let's see how it happened.
- Bills receive opening kickoff after Cincinnati chooses to defer. After converting with a 9 yard Ryan Fitzpatrick pass to Fred Jackson, the drive stalls.
- On the Bengals first possession, Rookie QB Andy Dalton completes a 25 yard pass to Artrell Hawkins but they also have to punt after 6 plays.
- Next three possessions all go three and out, 2 for Bills and 1 for Bengals.
- Bengals are first to score towards end of quarter when Mike Nugent hits a 31 yard field goal. Running back Bernard Scott had 16 yards on 4 carries, while Cedric Benson had 9 on 2 runs.
- On Bills final possession of half, Fitzpatrick hits Namaan Roosevelt on a 28 yard completion on a deflection.
With the exception of the 4th quarter in week 1 when the Bills had the backups in, this had to be first segment of the season in which not much of anything happened. We've all been spoiled really. One item to note that carried throughout the whole game is the Bills offense didn't have it quite as easy as in weeks' past. The Bengals had the third ranked defense in the league coming in, and they were not overrated from what I could see. I think I was like most Bills fans early on that I wasn't overly concerned, though. If the last two weeks had showed us anything, our offense was not a quick starter. I had all the confidence in the world that as the game went along, we would figure out the Bengals defense. It didn't happen.
We should have known that it would be a long day when our biggest play of the quarter (and one of the biggest of the day) came on a goofy ricochet reception by Naaman. At that moment it looked like the football gods were smiling down upon us again, but we would later feel their wrath.
- Continuing off the drive at the end of the 1st, the Bills drove a little further down the field on a Brad Smith reception of 17 yards and then an 8 yard run by him as well. Rian Lindell got the Bills on the board with a 43 yard field goal.
- On the third play of the Bengals next possession, Chris Kelsay forced Dalton to fumble and Bryan Scott picked it up and ran into the end zone from 13 yards out. However, after instant replay it was determined that the tuck rule would apply and the pass was ruled incomplete.
- Bills go 3 and out on next possession.
- Bengals gain some yardage on shirt drive to follow, but Marcell Dareus' first career sack plays a big role in leading to a punt.
- Bills offense comes short again, but the defense convert a turnover into a touchdown that counts following the punt when Scott intercepted a pass that deflected off Andre Caldwell's leg. He returned it 43 yards for the score.
- Bengals stopped on next possession, and the Bills have their first and only offensive TD on next drive. Stevie Johnson catches a 44 yard pass and Jackson runs for 32 yards, including the 2 yard score.
- Bengals end half by basically running out the clock and are greeted by a chorus of boos from their home crowd.
Scott was not to be denied in this quarter. Poor guy, any other week and we would be heralding his heads up, opportunistic play. But after what is to follow here, nobody on the defense was receiving much praise. Very similarily to George Wilson, the Bills safeties (Scott is a LB/S hybrid) are very good at making plays on the ball. Something a former player in that spot rarely did (his name rhymes with Bitner). Despite the overall disappointment of the day, I think we still need to appreciate the new dynamic we have at that position.
The tuck rule. Not a fan. Back when the infamous Tom Brady vs the Raiders play took place all those years ago, which really first introduced us to this facet of the rulebook, I was shocked that it wasn't a fumble. If you had nothing but a rudimentary knowledge of the game and watched that play along with Dalton's yesterday, you would clearly think it's a fumble. I don't care what kind of "pull back" gesture the QB makes, it should be a fumble. If the arm is clearly going forward, I'm fine with the call of incomplete pass, but these gray areas should be ruled the other way. Later in the night Mark Sanchez had a somewhat similar play that was considered a fumble, so I think we need to take the judgement away from the officials a bit and make it easier for them.
At the end of the half, it sure felt like a possible Bills blowout, didn't it? I told my wife, "We're up 17-3 and we've played like crap. And we're awesome in the 2nd half!" The Bills finally had a good drive to end the quarter and Jackson was getting his legs under him. Stevie had caught a long pass too, so it felt like our offense was getting things together. And Dalton looked horrible. If only we could hold that moment of time and not move forward. But it's a 60 minute game.
- Bengals take 2nd half kickoff and score on 21 yard Mike Nugent field goal. Benson runs 4 times for 43 yards and A.J. Green catches a long pass for 40.
- Bills have yet another 3 and out.
- Bengals punch it in the end zone this time on a 17 yard Dalton to Jermaine Gresham TD. Benson ran for 16 yards and Dalton also hit Hawkins for an 18 yard gain.
- Bills start moving ball for first time in 2nd half, moving down to the Bengals 29 as the clock expires. Jackson gained 15 yards on 4 carries and Fitpatrick completed passes to Donald Jones, David Nelson, Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
The wheels started to come off for the Bills this quarter. The offense continued to falter while the Bengals were generating sustained, point producing drives. Dalton looked like a completely different QB, confident and on target, and the momentum was tilted strongly in the home team's favor. The one promising thing was the drive at the end of the quarter when the Bills used up the last 9 minutes to give the defense a break.
Oh, Leodis McKelvin. When the guy has glimpses of solid play, like last week's interception of Brady, he teases us quite a bit with his talent. But then he gets matched up with a tall, talenter receiver like Green and it looks like a college freshman vs a seasoned pro. I think Leodis has some ability, he just doesn't show the proper instincts for breaking the play up. On several occasions, he was near Green, but Leodis wasn't quick enough to make a difference. It's not just physical mismatches there, but mental awareness as well.
- Finishing off drive from end of third, Lindell kicks a 23 yard FG to give Bills a touchdown lead. Nice conversion on a 3rd and 2 by Spiller kept the drive going.
- After Bengals go three and out, the Bills are victim of a controversial incomplete pass ruling on Johnson on third down. Bills end up punting.
- Bengals tie game on 3 yard Dalton run. Benson ran for 27 yards on 4 carries while Gresham caught 2 for 42 yards.
- Bills fail on next possession after just one first down.
- Bengals drive down to victory as Nugent hits a 43 yard field goal as time expires. RB Brian Leonard is key player with 21 yards rushing and 15 receiving. Dalton scramble for first down earlier in drive was originally ruled short of marker before being reviewed.
Stevie's play was clearly a catch. He was controlling the ball until after his knee was down and then it looked like it was knocked slightly loose. I'm not one to cast blame for a loss on the officiating (different story from when I was younger), especially in this case where the Bills had a chance to make plays after the dubious call. But it was a momentum changer - if that's ruled a first down we have the ball in Bengals territory with less than 10 minutes left in game. It was a tough one to swallow.
That all being said, I had some awful flashbacks to our defense of last year on the Bengals' last two drives. A lot of missed tackles and big openings for Cincinnati. So far this season everyone on the D were making a concentrated effort to wrap players up and not look sloppy out there. I think it's possible that the players were feeling the momentum and breaks the Bengals were riding and kind of lost concentration.
After our comebacks in recent weeks, it was really difficult to watch it from the other side. As a fan, you could just feel the game falling out of Buffalo's control. Not fun.
- Kind of spinning off my comments about the defense, it's alarming to see the run D falter in such a way that second half. We haven't been gashed like that all season and the hope is that is was a misstep and learning experience and not a regression. The big yardage from the TE was another eerie remembrance.
- I'm not a big scheme/system evaluator, but from what I understand the Bengals were playing a lot of Nickel packages that gave our offense problems. It's time like this when I'd like to see Chan Gailey just ride Freddy even if he has several 0 or negative plays. Eventually you'll break one/and or wear down the defense a little. That would bring back the passing game as a threat. But he does love his spread offense and it's hard to just flip that switch to a power running game.
- Despite some poor play by the offense as a whole, we still only allowed one sack this game. This continues to be the most amazing thing to me this season. Demetrius Bell went down with an injury and will miss next week, so it will be interesting to see if our protection is still good with Chris Hairston in there. It'll be a decent gauge for whether our players have developed nicely or if it's more the system and Fitz's quick release.
- Speaking of Fitz, he looked off on many of his throws, especially early. You'll get a game like that every once in a while where he will look terribly erratic. Those are the times when you need the defense to bail you out and that didn't happen.
A painful week for sure, but we still stand 3-1 with the tiebreaker over NE for first place. Would you have taken that before the season started? I think so. Next week the "dream team" Philadelphia Eagles come to town, smarting after another loss and a 1-3 record. While they have significant injuries, you know they'll be fired up not to go 3 games under .500. The Bills will have their hands full, but we have a little motivation after this week's poor effort as well.
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