Bengals can't finish off Bills

10-5-03, 4:30 p.m. Updated:
10-5-03, 11 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. _ Of course, it had to be a defensive game.

The Bengals and Bills celebrated the reunion of the Bengals' old defensive captain (Takeo Spikes), their old defensive coordinator and head coach (Dick LeBeau) and old defensive war horse (Tim Krumrie) with a slugfest that ended with the Bills winning, 22-16, in overtime on running back Travis Henry's two-yard touchdown run up the middle.

"He escaped," said Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson of Spikes. "Just barely. He was lucky. He escaped."

Spikes finished with three tackles and seven assists as the Bills stuffed the Corey Dillon-ess running game on 2.5 yards per their 27 tries even though tackle Sam Adams missed much of the game with a leg bruise. They also held quarterback Jon Kitna to his worst passing day of the season on 26 of 44 for 225 yards and forced an interception when they hit his arm to set up their only touchdown in regulation.

But, still, it was a game the Bengals felt they let get away after taking the lead with 5:33 left in the game on Shayne Graham's third field goal of the day to make it 16-13. They kept the ball five more minutes than the Bills, gained 22 more total yards, and tarnished quarterback Drew Bledsoe's golden arm on 105 yards passing in the game's first 54:33 with the aid of four sacks.

"Nobody is looking for that. That's not the team we are any more. We're not just happy to be in games. We expect to win every football game we play," said Kitna, who is tired hearing about moral victories. "Nobody outmatches us. Nobody's outplayed us as far as the effort on the field, and right now we're not getting the wins. It's tough to win on the road and today was proof of that. They didn't do anything in the football game offensively until the end. That's how it is on the road."

In the final 9:20 (the last 5:27 of regulation and the 3:53 of overtime), the Bengals' blitz just missed coming up with that fifth sack that would have ended it all. Instead, Bledsoe shook loose for 106 yards, one more than the entire game to that point, including passes of 20 and 28 yards in overtime to lift the Bills to 3-2 and save them another week from getting grilled like a platter of Buffalo wings.

"This was a big emotional game for us. My teammates came through for me to get the win," Spikes said. "That's the only thing that matters."

The Bengals went bitterly into the bye week at 1-4, knowing that two plays separate them from being 3-2. One came three weeks ago when Raiders cornerback Phillip Buchanon broke up a tie game in the last four minutes with a red-zone interception return for a touchdown.

And the other came Sunday, when Bills wide receiver Eric Moulds scooted away from cornerback Tory James on fourth-and-three from the Bengals 39 for a 19-yard gain with 1:47 left that set up Rian Lindell's tying field goal with 28 seconds left.

In a terse 3:25 post-game news conference ticked off Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis ticked off his team's missed chances to "ice," the game (the Moulds play, the one Bills' sack taking them out of field-goal range, a holding call on the newest Bengal on a Bills' punt when Kenny Watson's penalty put the ball on the Bengals 36 instead of the Bills 43), and vowed, "We'll be a better team after the bye week than we are now.

"There were a lot of things today that were significant football plays and you never know which one is going to make the biggest difference," Lewis said. "There were a lot of things that happened today that we need to correct and eliminate."

Lewis earmarked the running game as one of the items to be re-evaluated during the bye week and it should help that they expect to have Dillon back for the Oct. 19 game against Baltimore at Paul Brown Stadium.

But Sunday was the third straight game and the fourth time this season they rushed for less than 100 yards (67), and they've been outrushed in every game but one.

After Lewis elected to take a knee in the final 28

seconds of regulation even though he had the wind at his back at his own 21 ("You don't want a pass tipped or a tap, whatever. I'll do that every time") the Bengals won the overtime toss.

But they couldn't get a first down and got a 29-yard punt into the wind that put the Bills on their own 45. A 20-yard pass to wide open tight end Mark Campbell down the middle, and a 28-yarder to a leaping Moulds over James despite the fact the Bengals had 12 men on the field melted down what had been a superb defensive effort for 62 minutes. The play to Moulds was also compounded by free safety Kevin Kaesviharn's face-mask penalty and set up the winning play 3:53 into the overtime.

On the tying drive, Bledsoe rescued Buffalo with a third-and-11 conversion and a fourth-and-three conversion covering a total of 33 yards in a microwave 13-play drive of 5:05.

The killer was Moulds' 19-yard run and catch on fourth-and-three from the Bengals 39 in which Bledsoe worked out of an empty backfield and sent all five of his receivers to the first-down marker.

But the Bengals forced the field goal when cornerback Artrell Hawkins and linebacker Brian Simmons stopped Henry a yard shy of a first down at the Bengals 11.

Since it was a game of defense, special teams came up big and gave the Bengals a 16-13 lead with 5:33 left on Graham's 30 yarder.

Peter Warrick set it up with a 30-yard punt return that put the ball on the Bills 20, but running back Rudi Johnson lost a yard on third-and-one and they had to settle for the field goal.

The other big special teams play came early in the fourth quarter when a roughing the kicker penalty on Bengals punter Nick Harris against Bills defensive back Coy Wire gave the Bengals a first down at the Bills 45.

Then, as he did last week in Cleveland, Kitna found rookie wide receiver Kelley Washington to convert two third-down plays and Rudi Johnson capped off his first NFL start with a 16-yard touchdown run between left tackle Levi Jones and left guard Eric Steinbach to tie the game at 13 five minutes into the fourth quarter.

The Bengals rebounded from adversity late in the third quarter of a 6-6 game with Kitna looking at a first down from the Bengals 36 after Watson's holding penalty.

Bills middle linebacker London Fletcher pulled a stunt up the middle and came in unblocked to tip Kitna's arm and pass to defensive end Aaron Schobel at the Cincinnati 35.

The Bills came into Sunday griping about their next-to-last in the league running game and turned to Henry even though he missed last week's game with a rib injury and was iffy throughout the week.

Henry could just manage 30 yards on nine carries in the first half, but proceeded to rip off 24 on his first three carries after Schobel's interception, and scored on a nine-yard screen pass to put the Bills ahead, 13-6, with 42 seconds left in the third quarter. Henry finished with 85 yards on 25 carries.

The Bengals got a scare late in the third quarter when cornerback Jeff Burris was put into an ambulance after being strapped to a board following a neck injury when he tried to tackle Bills fullback Sam Gash. But he gave the thumbs-up before he rode off, and he suffered no paralysis. His neck was examined in the locker room and he said he can play in the next game.

"I was unconscious for a little bit and it was scary, but I'm OK now," said Burris, who accompanied the team back to Cincinnati.

Playing without Dillon for the first time in 52 games, the Bengals could get nothing going on the ground and had to ride the connection between Kitna and Warrick to set up Graham's field goals from 39 and 37 yards to take a 6-3 half time lead. Graham's attempt from 54 yards on the last play of the first half was long enough, but just went left as he kicked with about a 20-mile-per-hour wind at his back on his first miss of the season in seven tries.

"I knew I hit it good," Graham said. "I thought the wind would take it right, but it stayed right on course."

For the first time this season, Kitna had a worse passer rating than his foe. He finished at 63.2, 19 points lower than Bledsoe after Bledsoe finished 19 of 35 for 211 yards. But it didn't start out that way.

The Bengals forced Bledsoe into a dreadful 5-for-17 passing first half for 45 yards and its steady pressure finally paid off when left end Duane Clemons sacked him in the final minute of the half. It was the first of Clemons' three sacks, one more than he had all last season for the Chiefs.

A drop by receiver Josh Reed in the red zone didn't help Bledsoe and he needed a Lindell 27-yard field goal with 50 seconds left in the first quarter for the game's first points.

Kitna was effective hitting 16 of 27 passes for 153 yards while the Bengals could manage just 17 yards on 14 carries from a committee of Rudi Johnson and Brandon Bennett in the first half.

Warrick had six catches for 74 yards in the half and his 15-yarder early in the second quarter put the Bengals in the red zone for the first time. Warrick, who caught just one ball in the second half for four yards, then couldn't get loose in the end zone, the running game went nowhere, and a mental mistake cost them when wide receiver Chad Johnson was called for a false start. That forced Graham's field goal that got backed into a 39-yarder with 6:20 left in the half after left tackle Levi Jones was also called for a false start.

The Bengals took a 6-3 lead with a minute left in the half in a drive highlighted by Warrick's 20-yard catch-and-run across the middle, and Chad Johnson's nine-yard catch at the sideline in front of cornerback Nate Clements.

But Kitna couldn't find anybody open on three straight passes from the Bills 19 and Graham came on to hit the 37-yarder.

No doubt playing with a certain frenzy from their new defensive line coach, Krumrie's unit controlled scrimmage. Led by tackle Pat Williams, the Bills stuffed Cincinnati on minus six rushing yards in the first quarter, and forced a turnover early in the second quarter even as Adams exited.

Williams blew up the middle of the Bengals' line to force Bennett's fumble that was recovered by cornerback Kevin Thomas at the Bengals 40. Lewis challenged the play because it appeared Bennett's knee hit the ground before he lost the ball, but he got rejected.

Yet in this game of dueling No. 51s (Spikes' number here and in Cincinnati), Bengals middle linebacker Kevin Hardy pressured Bledsoe into an incompletion on third-and-four, and then knocked down a pass on the next play when the Bills went for it on fourth down.

Rudi Johnson got stopped on third-and-one from the Bills 39 to end he Bengals first series when Williams blew past Steinbach. Their third series became doomed when Spikes came in unblocked between the left tackle and guard to blow up Bennett for a six-yard loss.

Bennett had a tough day. There was his fumble and he bobbled two kickoffs, and the second one was a killer because it came in the overtime and sentenced Cincinnati to its own 20.

Johnson finished with 69 yards on 20 carries and Bennett had minus one yard on six runs. The Bengals did shake up their offensive line a bit. Right guard Matt O'Dwyer still hasn't played since he got last week's holding penalty in the fourth quarter against Cleveland, and Mike Goff played all the way.

Deactivated along with Dillon Sunday were wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, linebacker Riall Johnson, cornerback Dennis Weathersby, offensive lineman Victor Leyva, defensive end Elton Patterson, and linebacker Keyon Whiteside.

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