If the season ended with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow taking a knee Sunday night in the 24-18 win over the Bills in the striped menagerie of packed Paycor Stadium, they would make the playoffs and that's exactly where four-time Pro Bowl left Orlando Brown Jr. thought they would be when he came over from the Super Bowl champion Chiefs during the offseason.
"Joe is playing lights out. The defense is getting turnovers and we're not making turnovers on offense," Brown said. "We're a hard team to beat. It doesn't matter the time of year or the situation."
Brown had another quietly big night on an offensive line that asserted itself against the Bills' pass rush that came in with the second-most sacks in the NFL. They had just one Sunday, with Brown stoning, at various times, A.J. Epenesa (five sacks) and Gregg Rousseau (three). Leonard Floyd (6.5 sacks), Brown said, lined up over him more in the second half, but he ended up with only half of the one sack.
"They did blitz us (a lot), that was a little bit different of a game plan they had in years past," Brown said. "They were blitzing more than they usually do. It's straining to finish and Joe's scrambling makes them play us honest. Handling the twist games when they do run them. It was a good day."
But for Burrow, it's gone. They've won four straight, three over NFL powers Seattle, San Francisco, Buffalo, and just won a huge AFC game in the tiebreaker wars. But Burrow offered merely a postgame shrug.
"This was only game eight. We still have nine games left. We're 5-3 right now. We're in a great spot. We just have to continue to get better," Burrow said. "We're really happy with how we've played the last couple of weeks. We have to keep it going. We're 1-0 this week. We have to be 1-0 next week, too. This week means nothing. We'll come in tomorrow, watch the tape, lift, go about our business and we'll go from there."
CAN'T RUN FROM CTB: The Bengals defensive game plan had cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt doing what he'd been doing all year. Travel with the No. 1 cornerback and that meant Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
But a funny thing happened during the 5-3 Bengals' 24-18 win that knocks 5-4 Buffalo out of the playoffs and back into "In the Hunt," after Cincinnati's first win over an AFC team this year.
"They kept running him away. He kept getting in the slot," said Taylor-Britt, who still had an interception and a third-down red-zone play. "In the beginning, I'll say that was (the plan). He'd start outside. Look at the film. Every play he's motioning. Either to the other side, to Chido (Awuzie) and DJ (Turner), or he's motioning in the slot, where I'm not guarding him."
No matter. Taylor-Britt and the defense responded the way they have most of the season. The second-year cornerback who is looking more and more like a Pro Bowler, had his third interception in four games and the Bengals defense allowed 18 points or less for the third straight game after holding the NFL's fourth-highest scoring team to two touchdowns.
"If we were in zone, I stayed on my side. If we were in man, I followed him the whole way," Taylor-Britt said. "It's frustrating and a compliment. I want to go against the best player on the field every week, week in and week out. When they move away from me, I see they're on another game plan."
When Taylor-Britt stunned Bills quarterback Josh Allen with his ninth interception of the year in the first half, they were in zone after dropping eight men. But because they had five men across after they bailed out of a blitz look and slot cornerback Mike Hilton had Diggs inside, Taylor-Britt was able to play like it was man as he covered Bills wide receiver Gabe Davis down the left sideline.
And Allen, double pumping, threw it like it was a zone, so Taylor-Britt grabbed it in front of Davis at the Bills 32.
"It kind of messed up the quarterback. Disguise here and there," Taylor-Britt said. "I gave him two little hitches because Diggs was inside running, so we attacked the out. We don't want the deep ball. That's what they needed. A big play. A momentum starter. That's who Josh Allen is. He's going to go for the deep shot."
Then on the first series of the second half on third-and-nine from the Bengals 16, CTB had Davis covered on a streak and slowed him down enough that Allen threw it over their heads to force a field goal.
"A little fade ball. They were in a hurry-up offense and I was closest to their sideline," CTB said of a play Awuzie had Diggs in the slot.
Which also means they have great confidence in the rookie Turner. Diggs did beat him for a 17-yard touchdown and a two-pointer late in the game, but he also ended up with a manageable six catches for 86 yards when you realize 34 of the yards came on a poorly tackled screen on the first series.
"(Turner) is having a great year. "I believe he's holding his own," Taylor-Britt said. "We've got to get him some picks soon."
T-EEE T-EEE: You can hear it even in a road game when Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins makes a catch. You heard it plenty at Paycor Sunday night with eight catches for a season-high 110 yards.
"I knew that I liked the matchup with him today in one-on-one situations," Burrow said. "We were able to get some. When they were playing man, they were shading the safety over to Ja'Marr (Chase), so Tee had to step up, and he did."
IRV REBOUNDS: Bengals tight end Irv Smith Jr. came up big Sunday night after his fumble the week before on the 49ers 5. His first Bengals touchdown gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead when he flayed safety Jordan Poyer in a man-to-man matchup for a seven-yard touchdown.
"It was a corner route with the safety and I saw him jump in a little bit and I jumped out and straightened him up a little bit and went for the back pylon and Joe put it right there," Smith said.
After last Sunday, he not only got advice from his dad, a seven-year NFL tight end in the '90s, but also from his mom.
"He just told me to hold onto that football like it's a baby. That's what my mom says, to hold on like it's a baby," Smith said.
GREAT SCOTT: Why you need a short memory to play in the NFL, part 1,508.
Bengals safety Nick Scott was furious with himself for letting Allen get him off his feet on a pump fake that sprung his tying two-yard touchdown run on the game's first series.
"I was so disappointed in myself," Scott said. "It had been a coaching point all week. I have to do a better job taking that into the game. You can't get all fired up to make a play."
But Scott hung in and early in the fourth quarter he was able to help linebacker Germaine Pratt make a huge turnover at the Bengals 13 and Cincy up 21-10.
After rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid made a catch over the middle, Scott took out his legs when Kincaid began to jump and as he somersaulted, Pratt knocked the ball out and Scott recovered.
"I came downhill," Scott said. "I tried to put it on him. I sensed him jumping and I tried to get a piece of him. As soon as I got a piece, I looked back (and saw the ball)."