Here are my hot reads from the Buffalo Bills' 21-17 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at New Era Field:
This game was far closer than it should have been.
The Bills basically owned the first half in every possible way, yet only had a 14-0 lead to show for it. They allowed the Bengals to stay within reach, and eventually, move ahead.
Perhaps the moment that best captured the way the Bills felt about the way they were playing came with 3:08 left in the third quarter, after a Bills drive stalled with them holding a 14-7 lead. As he returned to the bench area, veteran tight end Lee Smith slammed his helmet to the ground, while still holding it, and headed for the bench.
After that, the Bills went back to performing as expected. The Bills scored on a seven-play, 78-yard touchdown drive — highlighted by a 49-yard reception by rookie tight end Dawson Knox — that ended with Frank Gore diving into the end zone from the 1 with 1:50 left on the clock.
It turned out to be the fifth winning drive and fourth fourth-quarter comeback Allen has led in his 14-game NFL career.
The Bengals moved the ball to the Bills' 28 in an effort to win the game, but Andy Dalton was intercepted by Tre'Davious White at the 10 with 12 seconds remaining to seal the win.
The Bills are 3-0 for the first time since 2011.
- You can't say enough about Knox's effort on the 49-yard pass play that set up the winning points. He knocked over defenders and kept his balance while running along the sideline. Knox also caught a touchdown pass. This is a star in the making.
- The Bills' defense was smothering in the first half, limiting the Bengals to only two first downs (to 18 by the Bills) and 77 yards (to 257 by the Bills), 21 of which were on the ground. For the day, the Bills forced three turnovers. Early in the second quarter, safety Micah Hyde pulled the ball from wide receiver John Ross after a short completion. Linebacker Matt Milano at the Bengals' 38. Midway through the third quarter, White intercepted Dalton for the first of his two interceptions. Three plays later, however, the Bills gave it right back when cornerback Darius Phillips picked off a horrible Allen pass to set up a Bengals touchdown to make it 14-7.
One play after getting blasted from behind on a blitz by cornerback Tony McRae, Allen was slow to get up. He promptly showed he was OK on the next play by sprinting to his right away from pressure and firing a perfect sideline pass to Brown for a 27-yard gain. However, the drive stalled three plays later after Allen was called for intentional grounding.
- Allen's speed on rollouts was generally more than the Bengals' pass rush could handle. Late in the first quarter, he had three nice pass completions on the way to a touchdown and two-point conversion that gave the Bills an 8-0 lead. Allen connected with Gore for a 13-yard gain, then hit Brown and Zay Jones for gains of 11 and 23 yards. The Bengals drew a roughing-the-passer penalty when defensive end Andrew Brown hit Allen on the knees right after he released the ball. Allen then found Cole Beasley for an 8-yard completion, and a face-mask penalty on the Bengals pushed the ball to the 2. After yet another Cincinnati penalty, for too many man, Allen rolled right and found a wide-open Knox for a 1-yard score.
- Allen did his "Bad Josh" thing when he threw a pass he had no business allowing to leave his grasp in the third quarter. Predictably, the Bengals intercepted and promptly scored a touchdown that unnecessarily kept them in the game. On third-and-9 from the Bengals' 16, Dalton found Tyler Boyd wide open over the middle for a 26-yard gain to the Cincinnati 35. Two plays later, Dalton found running back Joe Mixon on a screen pass that went for 33 yards to the Bills' 27. That set up Randy Bullock's 43-yard field to give the Bengals their first lead, 17-14, with 4:54 remaining.
- Running back T.J. Yeldon fumbling after Milano's fumble recovery put the Bills in business deep in Cincinnati territory. That isn't exactly the way to convince the the coaches that you should be getting carries while the team's best back, rookie Devin Singletary, is out with a hamstring injury. Former Bills linebacker Preston Brown scooped up Yeldon's gift.
Setting the table
No Bills-Patriots game in recent memory has been as highly anticipated as the one next Sunday at New Era Field.
With each team owning a 3-0 record, this showdown is for — wait for it — supremacy in the AFC East. More importantly, it serves as the best gauge of where the new and (so far) highly improved Bills stand.
The Patriots remain as dominant looking as ever, but it's fair to say the Bills have enough going for them to have more than a fighting chance, especially at home.