10-6-03, 6:30 a.m.
Updated: 10-6-03, 10:40 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. _ That defensive line Marvin Lewis re-tooled during the offseason came up big for a second straight week here Sunday. After shutting down the Browns' running game last week, it pretty much held Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe in check with four sacks by players they signed as free-agents this year, matching the number of sacks they had in their first four games.
Tackle John Thornton got his first sack as a Bengal and left end Duane Clemons became the first Bengal to get three in a game since Dec. 9, 2001, when rookie Justin Smith got three of the Bengals' record eight against the Jaguars.
Clemons now leads the club with four, doubling what he had all last season in Kansas City. Because of Bledsoe's lack of mobility and the urgency of the last 10 minutes, the Bengals blitzed probably more than they have this past season, but they also used heavily a four-man rush that has become their trademark this season.
One of Clemons' sacks came against the Bills' prized first round pick from last season, right tackle Mike Williams.
"I got another one against a tight end and one was on a game with Justin Smith," Clemons said. "We crossed and the guard stayed with Justin and nobody stuck with me."
Clemons, 29, has been here before, which is why Lewis got him. When he signed back on May 14, he immediately became the Bengals' career sack leader with 35, and that features four years with at least seven and a career-high of nine for Minnesota in 1999.
Back-to-back sacks by Thornton and Clemons midway through the fourth quarter led to the Bengals' go-ahead field goal when they pushed Buffalo back to its four-yard line and produced the punt Peter Warrick returned 30 yards to the Bills 20.
"The defensive line is gelling, it's improving each week," Clemons said. "Any time you're starting to put them together, you start feeling you're going to have a great day and you don't feel like anything can go wrong. But at the end of the day when you lose, that's extremely disappointing."
Until the end of the game, Bengals middle linebacker Kevin Hardy, who had at least one quarterback pressure, said the front four was getting so much pressure that they put everyone else back in coverage much of the time.
"We're going to get better each week, because that's what we've been doing," Clemons said.
WIND CHEER: It rained for much of the day at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday after a sunny first quarter. Winds gusted to as much as 22 miles per hour, and the Bengals might want to cross AstroPlay off their list of potential field replacements after a day of slipping and sliding.
Quarterback Jon Kitna didn't blame his worst passing day of the season on the wind, and said it had more impact on the kicking game. All four of kicker Shayne Graham's attempts (three were good) came with the wind, but punter Nick Harris wasn't as lucky. Only one of his punts had the wind on the way to a 31.8-yard net average, and he had to punt in overtime into its teeth and could only get a 29-yarder that put the Bills at their own 45.
"My best one of the day went something like only 32 yards and it was a perfect spiral," Harris said. "The main thing is, you can't try to kill it kicking into the wind."
Bills head coach Gregg Williams thought about taking the wind and not the ball, but that didn't appear to be an option for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis when the Bengals won the overtime toss and took the ball. Brandon Bennett bobbling the ball in the end zone on the OT kickoff and having to down it didn't help, either.
"We were excited," Kitna said. "We were getting the ball first. It's kind of like a Catch 22. Unless you do something with the football, you're going to be punting into the teeth of the wind and giving them field position. We just didn't get it done. We needed to get the ball past the 50-yard line, which would have changed field position at least."
BURRIS OK: The Bengals had a scare when cornerback Jeff Burris got carried into an ambulance strapped into a board late in the third quarter as a precautionary measure. He tried to tackle fullback Sam Gash with the front of his helmet and jammed his neck. The next thing he knew, he was giving a thumbs-up to his teammates as he was shoved into the ambulance, and the next thing he knew after that, he was getting an X-Ray in the locker room.
"I was unconscious for a little bit, but the X-rays were fine and I'm ready to play," Burris said. "I was scared because you never want to play with a neck."
Cornerback Artrell Hawkins was relieved to see Burris showered and dressed in the locker room after the game because the last time he saw him, "He was bent up and his eyes were rolled up in the back of his head."
Burris has had a heck of his time with his neck the last nine days or so. A week ago Friday night/ Saturday morning, he wrenched it in a car wreck before straining it in the first quarter of last Sunday's victory in Cleveland. He said he put the face of helmet into Gash's leg and the neck absorbed the hit as he got knocked out.
"I saw Sam coming out (of the backfield) and was thinking about making a big hit on him," said Burris in the locker room. "And the next thing I know, I'm standing in here."
Burris didn't go the hospital, but he knows the way. Burris, a first round pick of the Bills in 1994, spent his first four years in the league and met wife Lisa there. Their oldest child, Sienna, was born there during his final season in Buffalo.
"I'm ready to play," Burris said. "It's just a little sore."
TWO THROWS:** Really, it came down to these two throws on third down:
With 3:31 left in the game and trailing 16-13, Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe is facing a do-or-die third-and-11 from his own 40. At the last possible instant in the face of a strong rush, Bledsoe drills a 14-yard line shot to wide receiver Bobby Shaw on the sideline. Rookie cornerback Terrell Roberts, in the game because of Jeff Burris' neck injury, has decent coverage, but what are you going to do?
Then, on the third play of the overtime, Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna has rookie receiver Kelley Washington over the middle on third-and-two and underthrows him. The Bengals have to punt and never get the ball back.
SULLY MAKES BOARD:** "Buffalo News" sports columnist Jerry Sullivan made Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' bulletin board before Sunday's game, suggesting that the game was the biggest of Bills head coach Gregg Williams' career because the Bengals are still the Bengals and the Bills couldn't survive falling to 2-3. It's a bit ironic because Sullivan wrote what Lewis said last week. The Bengals aren't the '68 Packers.
Now Sullivan is going to be on Williams' board after Monday's column. Following the game, Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes cursed out Sullivan when he asked if Spikes had been worried at any point in the game that they would lose to the Bengals. Sullivan then wrote that the "win was nice, but it raised as many questions as it answered and did little to verify the Bills as a legitimate Super Bowl contender." And he doubted Spikes ran home to watch the highlights like he did after the opener.
GRAHAM SOLID:** Shayne Graham continues to be a solid find for the Bengals. The former Bill had his first three-field goal game for the Bengals with kicks of 39, 37, and a 30-yarder that put the Bengals ahead with 5:33 left in the game, 16-13. He's seven of eight for the season and his only miss was Sunday's 54-yard try on the last play of the first half. It was long enough to be Graham's career long, but he pushed it slightly to the left as he rode a wind of about 20 miles per hour.
"All four of my attempts were with the wind. It definitely felt good that it was at your back instead of blowing in your face mask," said Graham, who made all but two of his eight field-goal tries for Buffalo as a rookie two years ago. "I knew when I hit (the 54-yarder), I hit it good. I thought the wind would take it to the right, but it stayed straight on line. It had plenty to spare on it, but you've got to have the direction to go with the distance."
SPIKES GETS WIN:** Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes got that win over his old mates, and got a little nostalgic about it.
"It felt real funny. It was weird," Spikes said. "From day one, coming in as a rookie, the guys that you see are like your brothers. You go out and work hard and sweat and then the adversity that we were going through during my five years there. There is a special bond between all of us, between every last one of us. It was weird feeling like I wanted to take their heads off; it's just part of the game."
But take all that away and it was a big game for Spikes' defense after giving up the ghost the week before when Philadelphia got 177 yards rushing.
"It was frustrating," Spikes said of Sunday's victory. "Our offense would get something going, and we'd get off the field. Defensively we get a three-and-out and then the next two series we allow them to get two first downs and kick a field goal. It was very frustrating. We felt like we could have ended the game a lot earlier and not put so much stress on everyone."
Still, the Bengals were playing well enough that Spikes wanted the Bills to win the overtime toss.
"We wanted Drew (Bledsoe) and them to go first," Spikes said. "We felt they were hot. They had the momentum going into overtime. But at the same time, deep down inside, I felt like we wanted to go out and force a turnover."