Stunned by the loss of Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green on the second snap of Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium and two missed extra points by Mike Nugent, the Bengals couldn't overcome it and lost a crushing 16-12 game to the Bills before 61,356.
The Bengals' worst nightmare occurred when Green was carted off the field with a right hamstring injury. Green got tangled with Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the Bengals sideline on an incomplete pass, a devastating blow for a team now 3-6-1 and trying to stay in the AFC North race, a game and a half behnd the 5-5 Ravens and Steelers. He was declared out before the first snap of the second quarter and the Bengals were without the guy who came into the game second in the NFL in yards and third in catches.
The Bills also lost leading rusher LeSean McCoy (thumb) and leading receiver Robert Woods (knee) in the first half, but the Bengals defense couldn't make a stand against a Buffalo ground game that came into the game leading the league in yards per rush and kept the ball for 11 minutes in the third quarter.
Still, the Bengals defense played more than well enough to win, holding down a Buffalo offense that had scored at least 25 points in the last five games.
But the missed two PATs were death when the Bengals got the ball back at their own 15 with 2:30 left, no timeouts, and needing a touchdown to win instead of a field goal. They got the ball to the Buffalo 27 with three seconds left, but their best Hail Mary man was in the training room. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's fling into the end zone got batted around to the ground and so did the Bengals' hopes of making the post-season for a sixth straight season. Still a possibility, but they'll have to go from the ground up.
After Dan Carpenter's 54-yard field goal erased the Bengals' 12-10 half-time lead on the second half's opening drive, Dalton couldn't coax home two third-down throws to wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell and they had to punt each time.
And that second drive got blown up when they couldn't get a yard from their own 44 after an Adam Jones punt return, helped along when Bengals running back Jeremy Hill lost five yards on second-and-five as defensive tackle Kyle Williams continued his day-long torture of the Bengals offensive line with
Punter Kevin Huber then backed up the Bills on their 10, but Buffalo hogged the ball for the next eight minutes until 12:05 left in the game when Carpenter hit a 20-yard field goal to give Buffalo a 16-12 lead. The Bengals had another brilliant stand in the red zone, their second of the day when safety Derron Smith (playing for the injured Shawn Williams), broke up a pass headed to running back Mike Gillislee in the end zone.
But quarterback Tyrod Taylor (166 yards passing, 39 yards rushing) bounced outside to convert a third down, Gilislee (72 yards on 14 carries) also exploited the outside, and old friend Brandon Tate made a 34-yard-catch-and-run working against linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the middle of the field as the Bills rolled to 183 yards rushing. slightly better than their 5.3 NFL-high per rush average.
But Burfict was all over the place all day and again had a bevy of tackles, This time with 13, plus a sack.
The Bengals offense simply couldn't respond. The Bengals went three-and-out on four straight possessions in a second half they could accumulate just 38 yards until 2:30 left.
With the crowd booing the Bengals multiple formation shifts, they whiffed on their first five third downs in the second half. On third-and-one from their own 25 with 4:31 left they called timeout and heard the boos again. When they returned they spread the field and when the Bills dropped eight and rushed three, Dalton could find no one in the Green-less secondary and his pass to running back Giovani Bernard went awry.
They got the ball back with 2:30 left at their own 15, but had no timeouts and could only run two plays before the two-minute warning.
The Bengals took their first lead of the game at 12-10 with 3:10 lead left in the half when rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd curled out of the slot to beat Gilmore to the left corner for his first NFL touchdown on third down from the 1. Boyd stepped up and in as the Bengals grappled without Green, grabbing five catches for 46 yards in the first half.
But for the second time Sunday Nugent hit the right upright, his third missed PAT in his last six.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick preserved the lead with 55 seconds left in the half on a superb interception at the Bengals 1, somehow twisting his body to stay in-bounds while making the catch right on the sidelline as Taylor tried to extend the play out of the pocket and paid with just his fourth interception of the season.
It set up more at-the-end-of-the-half debate over clock management when the Bengals broke out on running back Jeremy Hill's17-yard run that turned into 32 on a late-hit penalty. The Bengals chose not to take a timeout as the clock rolled under 20 seconds and when quarterback Andy Dalton threw it behind tight end Tyler Eifert and Eifert batted it into the air, Gilmore had his second pick of the day
But Dalton steadied the turbulence against the NFL's most prolific pass rush when he hit 14 of 24 passes for 129 yards in the half. He ran for the first touchdown and on the drive that led to Boyd's touchdown he scrambled for seven yards for a first down on third down. He also found Eifert for 21 yards down the sideline and Boyd over the middle for 13. But the second half doomed Dalton to a 57 passer rating on just 24 of 43 passing for 207 yards in his first two-pick game since Nov. 1, 2015 in the win in Pittsburgh.
The Bengals fell behind the Bills, 10-6, in the first 20 minutes under a crush of adversity.
Faced with another third-and-long, Dalton fired an interception when Gilmore undercut a sideline route to LaFell and took off for 49 yards. Only Bernard's tackle at the Bengals 3 saved a touchdown.
And it was huge. On first down, linebacker Vincent Rey and Adam Jones combined to blow up Taylor's option run on the perimeter for a yard. On second down right end Michael Johnson got into the backfield to drop McCoy for a loss of one. Then on third down Taylor's scramble for a touchdown was negated by a holding call on left guard Richie Icognito and they had to settle for Carpenter's 26-yard field goal with nine minutes left in the first half.
Dalton's two-yard touchdown run off a zone read cut Buffalo's lead to 7-6 with 2:34 left in the first quarter. Nugent missed his second extra point in three games when the 33-yard clanked off the right upright after a break the refs took to review Dalton's touchdown.
Dalton put the ball in Hill's belly and when linebacker Jerry Hughes crashed, Dalton pulled it and took it in and the play held up even though he dropped it when he went across the goal line.
Without his meal ticket, Dalton converted a third-and-14 when it looked like it was all going to implode. Backup receiver James Wright made his fifth catch of the season by the sticks for a first down and 15 yards. Then on third-and-three Dalton made a great throw with the Bills in his face on a twist and Boyd made the play in the slot for one of his two red-zone catches in the drive.
The hits just kept on coming. On the second snap on defense, Burfict injured his neck when he collided with nose tackle Domata Peko and the Bengals put rookie Nick Vigil in the middle and Rey at WILL. He returned, but not before the Bills went 75 yards on eight plays to take a 7-0 lead with 8:52 left in the first quarter.
Taylor had easy pickings on a passes of 21 and 24 yards underneath a zone, the 24-yarder going to a wide-open Woods on third-and-five. That set up McCoy's seven-yard touchdown run, a play where he didn't get touched when Incognito and left tackle Cordy Glenn caved the Bengals' right side.
Burfict came back on the next series and forced a punt when he made a diving tackle on Taylor running out of the pocket.
With Green out, the Bills lost their best player when McCoy left late in the first half with a thumb injury, leaving with 33 yards on five carries that included a 21-yarder.
It was tough sledding again on the ground for the Bengals as Kyle Williams had a dominant day with four tackles (one for a loss) and one quarterback hit. The Bengals didn't get a run longer than four yards until their 11th carry with Hill getting 31 yards on 10 carries and Bernard five for 20 in the half. For the sixth time in ten games the Bengals failed to rush for 100 yards. Hill finished with 62 on 16 carries and Bernard had 21 on seven carries.
After watching Nugent's second miss, Bengals all-time leading receiver Chad Johnson, who won a 2009 pre-season game kicking an extra point in New England, tweeted he was available.
PRE-GAME NOTES: With a matchup against the NFL's most prolific rusher this decade and Buffalo's league-best 5.3 yards per carry, Bengals starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was inactive for Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Although Maualuga, in the past one of their best run players, was listed as practicing full go Thursday and Friday, the Bengals opted not to play him in a short week after he missed all of last week with a lower leg issue. The injury may be one of the reasons Maualuga has struggled at times this season, particulalry in last month's game in Dallas when the Cowboys rushed for 180 yards. Not only are the Bengals trying to stop running back LeSean McCoy and his more than 7.000 yards since 2010, but they're also facing an excellent running quarterback in Tryod Taylor and his nearly 400 rushing yards.
But they also struggled at times without Maualuga against the run on Monday when the Giants' last-in-the-league rushing attack nicked them for 122 yards and a bunch of key ones late in the game that killed the clock.
Backup defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry (calf) was active for the game after missing some time last week. Other than that it was the same cast on the inactive list: quarterback Jeff Drisklel, wide receiver Cody Core, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, guard Christian Westerman, and defensive tackle DeShawn Williams. Backup tight end C.J. Uzomah (calf) didn't practice Friday, was doubtful, and then inactive.
The Bills activated their massive Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, fighting a variety of injuries this seasons. That meant the No. 3 (Dareus) and No. 4 (Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green) picks in the 2011 draft were on the field.
Cincinnati Bengals host the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium in week 11 of the regular season 11/20/2016