The formula is simple enough. The longer a team holds the ball, the more it controls the clock, the fresher its keeps its defense and the better its chances for winning. The Buffalo Bills have won the time-of-possession battle for five consecutive games and won four, including three straight.
Bills coach Dick Jauron last week was hesitant to place too much value on the time of possession, but there's no mistaking the effect it has had on his ball-control team. The offense moved the chains, which helped the defense. The special teams helped determine field position, which helped both sides of the ball.
"I definitely think it's a factor," Jauron said. "It's not something that's meaningless. Clearly, you've got to keep the ball, and when you do that you're keeping their offense off the field and your defense off the field."
The Bills held the ball for 35 minutes, 42 seconds against Cincinnati. It was the longest they had it in one game since a 17-12 victory over Minnesota in 2006. The five-game stretch in winning the TOP battle is the longest since 1998, when the Bills had an advantage for six straight games down the stretch. They were 4-2 during the span that year, which helped vault them into the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
Winning that battle doesn't guarantee winning the game. After all, the Bills often held the ball less than their opponents during their no-huddle days. However, it could be a formula that suits this team. All three phases have contributed to their success in time of possession, evidence that the Bills are coming together.
* Offense: Buffalo has controlled the ball mainly through its methodical running game and short-passing attack. The offensive line, mostly intact since training camp, has played a pivotal role in the Bills' consistency.
When it's working, the Bills can effectively control the clock. Marshawn Lynch had been knocking on the door of a 100-yard rushing day before kicking it down with a 56-yard TD run and a 153-yard effort Sunday.
J.P. Losman had enough time in the pocket to bake a cake Sunday. Lee Evans had nine catches for a season-high 165 yards, the second-most in his career. Eight of his nine catches resulted in a first down.
Buffalo was 8 of 13 on third down against Cincy and had a season-high 23 first downs. The Bills had two nine-play drives, a 10-play drive and a 15-play drive. They ran 74 plays against the Bengals, who had just 56.
"It's an indication that offensively we're becoming better," Jauron said. "We're playing better, more consistent football, converting third downs. If you can stay on the field, good things usually happen. Not always."
* Defense: In their first three contests, the Bills allowed 177.3 yards rushing per game. Over their past five, they allowed just 78.2 yards per game. They limited the Bengals to just 28 yards rushing Sunday, marking the third time in five games in which Buffalo's opponents were limited to 76 yards or fewer yards on the ground. They allowed 127 yards rushing to Baltimore and won, anyway.
The Bills forced just 11 punts in their first five games, four of which came after three offensive plays. During their three-game winning streak, they forced 18 punts. The Bengals had five three-and-outs on Sunday. Buffalo also allowed Cincy into its own territory just four times, a season best.
Buffalo has an undersized front seven, but it hasn't made much difference in the past five games because its defense has been fresh.
* Special teams: Brian Moorman has been one of the NFL's best punters for years, and this season is no different. Moorman had a 38.8-yard net average, fourth-best in the AFC.
Moorman placed 14 punts inside the 20-yard-line, third-most in the conference, in the first eight games. It's impressive considering he spends half his time dealing with the Western New York winds. Conversely, Roscoe Parrish led the AFC with a 19.2-yards-per-return average, impressive for the same reason.
The Bills were leading the league in average drive start after kickoffs in the first seven games before giving up a TD return Sunday. Terrence McGee was sixth in the league, averaging 28.5 yards per kickoff return.
"The whole thing has got to fit together, particularly if you're not tremendously overpowering in one area," Jauron said. "Offense, defense and special teams all contribute. Field position contributes to the three-and-outs. All those things have worked the last four or five games. We've gotten a little better."