ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — A 29-yard punt return by Brandon Tate set up the Bengals at the Buffalo 33 in overtime, leading to Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 27-24 win Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium and lift them into sole possession of first place in the AFC North at 4-2.
The Bengals were able to escape with the win after allowing the Bills 14 fourth-quarter points to tie the game at 24 when quaterback Thad Lewis hit wide receiver Marquise Goodwin for a 40-yard scoring pass with 1:08 remaining. Earlier in the period Lewis found tight end Scott Chandler wide open across the middle for 22 yards and the score on a fourth-and-eight conversion.
In overtime the Bengals won the coin toss and elected to receive. After an offensive pass interference call on wide receiver A.J. Green put the Bengals in a first-and-20 hole, quarterback Andy Dalton found Green for 12 yards, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu for 10 more, and then running back Giovani Bernard for 23 yards on a swing pass to the Buffalo 42. But the drive stalled there and a Kevin Huber punt pinned the Bills at their seven-yard line.
The Bengals defense forced the Bills into a three-and-out, setting up Tate's 29-yard return.
After scoring one touchdown in the previous 130 minutes, the Bengals offense responded with three Dalton touchdown passes in building a 24-10 lead over the Bills at the end of the third quarter as Dalton ran his road record to 12-7 in the first away victory of the year.
The Bengals spent the game's last 20 minutes trying to figure out how to give the game to Lewis, the Bills journeyman quarterback in his second NFL start. Dalton finished 26-of-40 for 337 yards and a passer rating of 105.9 with the 483 yards of offense tying the most the Bengals have generated in his 38 NFL starts and most in a victory. They had 483 in a 2011 loss to Balltimore.
But mistakes allowed Lewis to hang around. He finished 19-of-32 for 216 yards and a 100.5 rating.
The defense responded most of the day and it was called on to win it again after Bernard got stopped on third-and-two just inside the 50 and a Huber punt put the ball on the Bills 14 with 2:40 left in regulation.
Leading 24-10, the Bengals couldn't deliver the dagger late in the third quarter when they had a first down from the Bills 10 following a facemask call after a Mario Williams sack of Dalton. But Dalton's third-down pass to Green on the end zone's back line as he scrambled out of the pocket was too high and Nugent's 24-yard field goal was negated on a hold by tight end Alex Smith. Nugent then sliced the 34-yarder wide right with 1:15 left in the third quarter.
Special teams broke down again moments later when cornerback Adam Jones juggled a punt on the first play of the fourth quarter and the Bengals had to start at their own 5 and a weak drive set up Huber's first punt of the day, a 41-yarder out of the end zone that put the Bills on the Bengals 45 with 12:46 left in the game.
That turned into a fourth-and-eight touchdown pass from Lewis to Chandler running away from the coverage of left end Carlos Dunlap for a 22-yard play that cut the lead to 24-17 with 10:13 left in the game.
The Bengals took a 24-10 lead with 10:49 left in the third quarter on a series set up by Dunlap's forced fumble of Lewis as he ran out of the pocket and WILL backer Vontaze Burfict recovered at the Bengals 47.
On third-and-eight from the Bills 10, Dalton couldn't find anyone in the end zone when he found time as he moved out of the pocket, and also found wide receiver Marvin Jones coming back for the ball from the right corner to the goal line and fired a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Using yards after catch the Bengals got big plays from their wide receivers for the first time in a month Sunday when they raced to a 17-10 halftime lead. But they needed two huge stands from the defense, the last after Dalton threw an interception right into the arms of safety Jim Leonhard on a third-down slant with 1:44 left in the half that Leonhard ran to the Bengals 38. From there Burfict dumped running back Fred Jackson for a three-yard loss on a first-down swing pass to take Buffalo out of field-goal range and nose tackle Domata Peko sacked Lewis on second down to force the punt.
Dalton had delivered a solid half before the ill-advised throw to Green and finished 9-of-14 for 177 yards and 117.6 passer rating. He kept alive one touchdown drive on a third-down scramble for six yards when he made Rookie of the Month middle linebacker Kiko Alonso miss, and he threw for the second one when he wriggled out of a sack with a resourceful shovel pass to Bernard over the middle. Bernard turned it into a 20-yard play when he made no less than four Bills miss from the 16 on in to give the Bengals a 17-7 halftime lead with 8:34 left in the half as they capped off a 98-yard drive.
Green set up the score with a 54-yard, wide-open screen, his longest play of the year that was aided by monstrous blocks by left tackle Andrew Whitworth on the 188-pound Leonhard and Sanu on defensive back Brandon Smith.
Earlier, Marvin Jones ripped off 42 yards on a screen pass for the first 40-plus-yard play by a wide receiver since Green had two in the opener and it set up Dalton's 18-yard touchdown pass to Green working one-on-one against cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Green got behind him on a post corner and then leaped over his back to tear it away before he fell out of the right corner to give the Bengals a 10-7 lead with 5:26 left in the first quarter.
The Bengals also showed some ability to run the ball when running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis picked up 51 yards on seven carries to spearhead a 107-yard rushing half to go with Green's 80 yards on three catches, his best outing since the opener. BJGE finished with a season-high 86 yards on 18 carries as the Bengals topped last week's seasonn by three rushing yards with 165.
The Bengals kept the Bills in the game in the first half because they couldn't stop the run and sometimes Lewis ran the zone read but most of the time it was zone blocking that either knocked the Bengals off the ball or made them miss tackles. Three backs had at least 20 yards as the Bills finished the half with 86 yards on 21 carries and three personal foul calls on Burfict added to a curious stat sheet that had the Bengals called for four penalties and none for the Bills.
For the second straight week the Bengals defense staged a stand from the 1-yard line, but this one came on the final three snaps of a four-down set and ended when SAM linebacker James Harrison chased down Lewis on a play-action bootleg for a one-yard loss on fourth down.
Like he did against New England last Sunday backup linebacker Vincent Rey had a stop (this one on third down), and Harrison added a stop on second down as the Bengals blunted a drive in which the AFC-best Bills rushing game racked up 61 rushing yards alone in that drive.
That gave rise to the 98-yard drive, the fifth Bengals touchdown drive of at least 90 yards this season and their ninth of at least 80 yards after combining for 19 the previous two seasons.
It didn't take long for the ghosts of T. J. Yates, Brian Hoyer and all the other obscure quarterbacks that have upset the Bengals to rattle their chains. In fact, it took only three snaps on Buffalo's first third down when wide receiver T.J. Graham ran by cornerback Adam Jones on a 47-yard bomb that put Buffalo into the red zone five minutes into the game.
Lewis then avoided a sack and when he ran for five yards he got 15 tacked on for roughing when Burfict and defensive end Wallace Gilberry converged on his dive. Lewis than ran in a shotgun snap from three yards out to give the Bills a 10-3 lead seven minutes into the game and snap Cincinnati's streak of 21 straight games without giving up a touchdown on its first drive of the game.
Lewis finished the half 8-of-11 for 67 yards and that touchdown for a 88.1 passer rating.
A reverse back to the left to wide receiver Marvin Jones off a feed from Bernard had clear sailing down the left side and Jones made a nice move on defensive end Jerry Hughes to pick up the last 10 yards or so down to the Bills 28.
But the drive stalled on three snaps before Nugent's 46-yard field goal gave the Bengals a 3-0 lead 2:46 into the game. Dalton scrambled away from pressure on first down and two slants to Jones got broken up, the last one by cornerback Leodis McKelvin. PREGAME NOTES:Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis's inactive list for Sunday's game against the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium reflected Cincinnati's healthiest game of the season.
Right end Michael Johnson (concussion) and cornerback Leon Hall (hamstring) were back in uniform after missing last week's game against the Patriots and it was Hall's first appearance since he got hurt on cornerback Terence Newman's winning 58-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Green Bay on Sept. 22.
Cornerback Brandon Ghee (thigh), Hall's backup in the slot, remained out. But it is Hall's first game back with safety Chris Crocker, the guy that played in the slot last week. With Johnson up, rookie end Margus Hunt returned to the inactive list after making his NFL debut against New England.
Also inactive were names that have been down before: running back Rex Burkhead, cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, offensive linemen Tanner Hawkinson and Mike Pollak, and wide receiver Ryan Whalen.
Steve Johnson, the Bills best wide receiver, was inactive after missing practice this week because of injury and a death in the family. Stephen Gilmore (hand), their best cornerback, as expected to make his 2013 debut Sunday.
Lewis went with six captains: left tackle Andrew Whitworth, quarterback Andy Dalton, safety Reggie Nelson, defensive tackle Domata Peko, linebacker Rey Maualuga and running back Cedric Peerman