» Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: B
It’s clear that both C.J. Spiller (ankle) and Fred Jackson (knee) are playing at less than 100 percent. They each had 10 carries against the Bengals, with Spiller gaining 55 yards and Jackson gaining 35. The Bills’ run game looked dominant at times in the first half, when the team carried 21 times for 86 yards. But it slowed in the second half, with only 11 carries for 44 yards. Third stringer Tashard Choice again provided solid play in limited action, with 24 yards on just four carries. Quarterback Thad Lewis rushed for a 3-yard touchdown on a nicely called draw play in the first quarter.
PASSING GAME: B
Lewis was solid in his first start in place of the injured EJ Manuel, going 19 of 32 for 216 yards and two touchdowns. His accuracy on deep balls was particularly impressive, as he hit T.J. Graham for 47 yards in the first quarter and Marquise Goodwin for a 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Graham led the team with four catches for a career-high 74 yards. Rookie receiver Robert Woods had only two catches for 9 yards. The Bills needed more from him in place of the injured Stevie Johnson. Lewis was hurt by drops — one by Graham and one by Woods.
RUN DEFENSE: C-
The Bills were caught being over aggressive in the first quarter and were burned on a reverse by Bengals receiver Marvin Jones for a 34-yard gain. Buffalo gave up 165 yards on the ground, including a 25-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who’s not a burner. That’s way too much against a pedestrian running back like Green-Ellis. Buffalo did not tackle well all game. Bills rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso, however, had the stat line of the day, finishing with 22 tackles.
PASS DEFENSE: D
Props to cornerback Stephon Gilmore for gutting it out and playing with a club on his wrist, but he didn’t look ready to be on the field. Gilmore couldn’t get off blocks very well and it burned the Bills when Bengals receiver A.J. Green took a screen pass 54 yards in the second quarter. The Bills gave up 337 passing yards — and a lot of those came after the catch. Buffalo sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times. Mario Williams had a half-sack, his only stat compiled during the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Brian Moorman punted great in his return to the Bills, with a net average of 42 yards on five punts. His coverage failed him, however, in overtime when Brandon Tate had a 29-yard return to set the Bengals up inside Buffalo territory for the eventual game-winning field goal. Dan Carpenter drilled a 51-yard field goal. He’s now 3 for 3 from 50-plus yards on the season and has made 12 straight field goals. Goodwin didn’t provide much of a spark on kick returns, averaging just 23.5 yards on four attempts. Leodis McKelvin also had only 10 yards on two punt returns.
The Bills were outschemed, especially in the first half, when the Bengals gained 284 yards. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s willingness to blitz was exploited. Nathaniel Hackett called a solid game with a new quarterback — 24 points is about all you could have asked for. I liked Doug Marrone going for it on fourth and goal in the second quarter, but how about mixing in a quarterback sneak on one of those three plays from the 1-yard line?
» Grading the Bengals
RUNNING GAME: A-
Green-Ellis averaged 4.8 yards per carry, rushing 18 times for 86 yards. The Bengals rushed 41 times as a team, helping them dominate time of possession, 42:52 to 25:24. Rookie Giovani Bernard could not find much daylight, gaining 28 yards on 15 carries, an average of just 1.9 yards per rush. He made his impact felt in other areas, though.
PASSING GAME: A
Dalton was great, completing passes to eight different receivers in going 26 of 40 for 337 yards and three touchdowns. He made good decisions with the ball and got it out quickly. A.J. Green looked like one of the best receivers in the league. His 18-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter was a beauty against good coverage from Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Bernard caught six passes for 72 yards and looked dynamic in the open field, especially on his 20-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
RUN DEFENSE: C+
The Bengals caught a break in that Spiller was dinged up. They struggled to contain him, especially when he bounced his runs to the outside. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is a beast — he finished with 11 tackles and several of them were good thumps. The Bengals’ goal-line stand at the start of the second quarter — when they stopped the Bills from the 1-yard line on three straight plays — was a huge sequence in the game.
PASS DEFENSE: C
Cornerback Terence Newman was roasted by Goodwin on the Bills’ tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, as was Adam Jones on Graham’s 47-yard catch in the first quarter. Goodwin was also open deep in the fourth quarter and should have drawn a pass interference — but it wasn’t called. The Bengals sacked Lewis five times and hit him 11.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Tate’s punt return was his first of the game. He replaced Jones, who had two returns for only 5 yards in regulation. Mike Nugent missed a field goal from 34 yards that would have given the Bengals a 17-point lead. The punt and kickoff coverage units were solid. Three of Kevin Huber’s five punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, including one in overtime that backed the Bills up inside their 10.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden had an awesome game plan, making Buffalo pay for its aggressiveness on defense. Marvin Lewis went the conservative route late in the fourth quarter by punting instead of going for it on fourth and 1 from near midfield. It almost came back to bite him. The Bengals did take eight penalties for 78 yards.