ORCHARD PARK, NY _ Moments after the New Era Field crowd greeted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton with a standing ovation, Dalton sat them back down in the game's first ten minutes with a perfect passer rating and two touchdown passes that staked them to a 14-0 lead on the way to a 20-0 half-time lead.
Dalton's fellow first teamers extended the lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter as Randy Bullock's 46-yard field goal capped a dominating performance in all three phases in the third pre-season game it's all supposed to come together. Dalton and most of the varsity exited with 6:09 left in the first half, leaving a pretty good taste in the mouth since they won't be seen until the opener in Indianapolis on Sept. 9.
The Bengals defense buffaloed rookie quarterback Josh Allen, sacking the first-rounder five times in the game's first 25 minutes with right end Carl Lawson grabbing 2.5 of them. At one point, he had as many completions as sacks and the Bills didn't pass midfield until halfway through the third quarter.
The only downers were left tackle Cordy Glenn exiting with a shoulder injury after the first two series and a running game that appears frozen in last year. In the first half, running backs Joe Mixon (six yards on seven carries) and Giovani Bernard (three yards on four carries) might as well have been running in a closet. In his return to Buffalo, Glenn remained on the sidelines and it didn't look serious while Cedric Ogbuehi took his spot.
The passing game looked Opening Day ready with touchdown catches by the vet (A.J. Green) and the kid (John Ross) as Dalton finished 11 of 16 for 180 yards and a 145.8 passer rating. The pass rush also looked Sept. 9 fresh, holding Allen to six of 12 passing for 34 yards and a kicking game that delivered Randy Bullock field goals of 46 and 37 yards.
"We made some good plays on offense in the first half with Andy in the game," said head coach Marvin Lewis at the half. "We get the ball to start the second half, so we need to continue to establish the tempo. On defense, we did a good job on third down, getting after the quarterback."
Dalton, who earlier in the day visited a Buffalo hospital to give back to the Bills fans who donated to his foundation at the end of last season, hit six of his first seven passes for 131 yards. And he wasted no time.
Barely had his face disappeared from the scoreboard thanking Bills' fans when Dalton had oodles of time on his first snap and found Ross racing past cornerback Vontae Davis down the right sideline with safety Jordan Poyer unable to get there in time.
Ross slowed down to track Dalton's throw at about the Bills 10 and then deked both Davis and Poyer out of their official Bills apparel and went into the end zone untouched barely a minute into the game.
"We got off to a fast start, and John Ross made a great play," Dalton said. "And then to put together another touchdown drive and get points on four possessions -- that's exactly what you want to do."
Lost in the Ross play was tight end Tyler Eifert making his season debut lined up at the end of the line in a double tight end set.
Ross actually made the good field position possible when he made a diving catch on a short punt. At that Ross's resume of this preseason three catches for 57, 29 and 20 yards.
The Bengals got the ball right back when Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins blew up the play and nose tackle Andrew Billings finished up with the sack. But the Bengals had to punt when right guard Alex Redmond, getting his shot to start in place of Trey Hopkins, was called for a false start and a hold and earned a spot back on the bench after Kevin Huber's punt of 47 yards was covered by safety Clayton Fejedelem.
When the Bengals drew a penalty on the play, they backed up the Bills when Allen underthrew tight end Charles Clay and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick just missed a pick. When rookie cornerback Darius Phillips fair caught a punt at the Buffalo, Dalton cashed.
But he had to spread the field to do it, hitting Eifert for 11 yards and split Mixon in the slot and hitting for 23 more. But when the Bills blew up the right side of the line, Mixon lost two and Dalton went to his No. 1 on third-and-12 from the Bills 14. Green got behind cornerback Tre'Davious Whiet on a corner route and Dalton put it right over the defenders fingertips to make it 14-0 just 4:32 into the game.
After Atkins completely drilled left guard Vlad Ducasse, Lawson cleaned up to share the third-down sack, Dalton got the ball again and found the other most popular Bengal in Bufflalo. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd got great separation on side-line first down route for a 24-yard gain that dragged the Bengals out of a hole at the Cincinnati 14.
Boyd then converted one of his patented third downs, this one on third-and-three and Boyd got just enough over the middle on a four-yard route that not only got the first down, but put Bullock in range for a 46-yarder that made it 17-0.
The first offense left, but not the first defense and Lawson ended another drive with a sack to give back-up quarterback Matt Barkley the ball. The Bengals got a nice 10-yard punt return by wide receiver Alex Erickson, who cut back, stumbled and dove up the middle. Barkley's 21-yarder to tight end Tyler Kroft on the left sideline set up Bullock's 37-yarder for the 20-0 lead.
The pummeling of Allen continued until the last minute of the half when left end Carlos Dunlap just missed a sack-safety whew down Allen. Allen had to leave for a concussion check but was cleared to return.