Bobbing and weaving on a dinged ankle, quarterback Andy Dalton gutted out the 22nd 300-yard game of his career Sunday and his two huge throws to tight end Tyler Kroft translated into Randy Bullock's 29-yard field goal with 3:33 left that put the Bills away in a 20-16 victory before 52,367 at Paul Brown Stadium.
But the win belonged as much to the defense that overcome three turnovers by stuffing Buffalo on 221 total yards and holding the Bills to a field goal on a drive that started at the Bengals 12 with 10:37 left in the game. Safety George Iloka's interception with 2:14 left broke the Bills' skein of 18 straight quarters without a turnover during a game Cincy racked up six sacks.
The defense, responding with starting cornerbacks Adam Jones and Dre Krikpatrick injured in the first half, put together a hellacious stand led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict after old friend Brandon Tate's 41-yard punt return and an ensuing bench penalty put the ball on the Bengals 12. But the Bills could only manage two yards when Burfict dropped running back LeSean McCoy for a four-yard loss on second down. They held to allow Steve Hauschka's 28-yard field goal and keep the lead at 17-16 with 8:59 left.
Dalton, limping after he taped his ankle following back-to-back shots way back in the second quarter, rallied the Bengals to a 17-13 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when rookie running back Joe Mixon bounced out a power play to the right perimeter from five yards out for his first NFL touchdown.
The play was set up by Dalton's just as resilient partner in crime, A.J. Green. Green, on the wrong end of three turnovers during the long afternoon, looked up over his head on third-and-10 and made a circus catch in the middle of the field working against rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White for a 47-yard pickup that put him with in 11 yards of the third 200-yard game of his career. He finished with 189 yards on seven catches for a season-high.
After converting two third-and-eights with rushers all over him, Dalton found Green underneath the Bills defense in the red zone in the middle of the third quarter. But linebacker Lorenzo Alexander came from behind to punish Green with a forearm that punched the ball out and flattened him as the Bengals suffered their third turnover of the game as the third quarter clicked under seven minutes.
The Bills, racking up 10 points off the turnovers, parlayed it into a go-ahead score, a 38-yarder from Hauschka with 1:54 left in the third quarter that gave the Bills the lead for the first time all day. Bills quarterback Tryod Taylor made a big-time third-and-five throw when he hit tight end Nick O'Leary working on defensive back Josh Shaw.
But the big play was cornerback William Jackson's sixth penalty of the season, this one a pass interference flag for 19 yards when he grabbed rookie wide receiver Zay Jones after he got beat.
To make matters worse after the play, Green had to get checked out by the training staff after he had been involved in all three turnovers. The first two came when he had catchable balls hit off his hands.
Dalton threw his first interception since the opener late in the first half and it was a killer because Taylor turned it into a 12-yard touchdown pass to Tate on third-and-10 with 3:10 left as Buffalo wormed into a 10-10 half-time tie.
Green was already over the 100-yard mark for the 30th time in his career (five balls for 122) when Dalton tried to hit him on an in-cut and he threw it a bit high. It bounced off Green's hands and safety Micah Hyde made a diving catch at the Bengals 23. The Bills promptly threw it in the air five times on the drive ending with Tate's touchdown on a day he made his first catch of the season.
But the biggest play may have come on the previous third down, a third-and-five. Taylor got flushed out of the pocket as the Bengals rushed four men and dropped seven and as he ran out of time running to his right and hit McCoy right at the sticks for the first down working against back-up safety Clayton Fedjelem.
Fedjelem was in there because the Cincy DBs were dropping like flies. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick left for good with a shoulder injury. Cornerback Adam Jones left twice and didn't come back. Safety Shawn Williams left with an elbow injury and came back. Iloka also had to leave, but came back.
Tate, a Bengal for six seasons before they made change at punt returner last year, found a hole in a zone between Iloka and Josh Shaw. Before Sunday, the Bills had just 20 catches from their wide receivers and none from Tate. When their best receiver, tight end Charles Clay got carted off the field in the first quarter, Buffalo's four active wideouts were under the gun. But despite the state of the passing game, McCoy was able to grind for 51 yards on 10 carries.
Dalton and Green took the long ball out of mothballs and on the first snap of the second series of the game connected for one of their old-fashioned touchdown bombs with a 77-yarder that gave them a 7-0 lead 3:31 into the game
Dalton, hitting 11 of his first 13 passes, took two straight shots early in the second quarter. The first one was a roughing the passer call on his old TCU teammate, Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, and the second one gave Dalton a limp but he walked it off and Mixon gave them a first down at the Bills 20. Dalton, who finished the half with a 97.1 passer rating on 11 of 16 passing for 161 yards, couldn't find an open Tyler Kroft as the tight end worked against one-on-one coverage and the Bengals took Randy Bullock's 30-yard field goal for a 10-3 with 9:01 left in the half.
Dalton finished 22 of 36 for 328 yards and is now just one 300-yard game shy of Boomer Esiason's club record.
The Bills rarely move out of their Cover Two zone defense, but on the first snap of the second series they did when they put the Rookie of the Month on Green in the person of cornerback Tre'Davious White.
Green elicited huge separation on a go route down the right sideline and Dalton, operating behind Andre Smith at right tackle and Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle, had plenty of time to produce their longest play of the season and the longest against the Bills. Green's longest catch since the 80-yard TD in Baltimore on Sept. 27 is the first TD against the Bills this season outside of the red zone.
The Bengals wasted no time extending their NFL-best streak to 34 straight games with a sack when they ended the Bills' first two drives dragging down Taylor. Right end Michael Johnson got him the first time and in a Pro Bowl matchup between Bengals tackle Geno Atkins and Bills left guard Richie Icognito, Atkins won this one with his fourth sack of the season and 56th of his career, one shy of teammate Carlos Dunlap and fourth place on the Bengals all-time list.
But they weren't getting much help from the offense after the bomb to Green. Mixon ran it five times for 23 yards and running back Jeremy Hill added 12 yards on three carries, and they were 2-for-7 on third down.
PRE-GAME HITS: With Trey Hopkins back in the lineup at right guard, the Bengals deactivated both young back-up guards in preparation for the Bills. Joining Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman on the inactive list were two injured tight ends, Tyler Eifert (back) and Ryan Hewitt (knee), injured wide receiver John Ross (knee), and injured safety Derron Smith (ankle).
Although rookie linebacker Jordan Evans (hamstring) was limited during the week, he ended up being active. Rookie wide receiver Josh Malone was inactive for the fifth straight week. All but Redmond and Hewitt were inactive last week in Cleveland. Redmond played 16 snaps in in his first extended action as a pro. Hewitt hurt his knee during the game but there's hope he'll be back after next week's bye. Even though Hopkins was healthy, T.J. Johnson got the start at right guard. He did checkin for a few snaps late in the half.
Cincinnati Bengals host Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium in week 5 of the regular season.