After holding Super Bowl champion quarterbacks in check in their three wins this year, the Cincinnati Bengals face a signal-caller making his second NFL start Sunday when they visit Thad Lewis and the Buffalo Bills.
The reputations and rings of the quarterbacks the Bengals (3-2) have faced seemingly has had very little to do with their results.
They have defeated New England’s Tom Brady, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger – all at home – and held them to a combined 63.2 passer rating. They’ve lost on the road to Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer and Chicago’s Jay Cutler, who combined for a 99.0 rating.
“When the schedule came out, I think I counted that we played 10 of the last 12 Super Bowl participants,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “Obviously with that comes very good quarterbacks and generally experienced football teams.”
The latest defensive accolade came last Sunday in a 13-6 win over the Patriots. The Bengals snapped Brady’s streak of 52 consecutive games with a touchdown pass while keeping pace with Baltimore and Cleveland atop the AFC North.
Sunday’s matchup against the Bills (2-3) and their recently promoted practice-squad quarterback falls more in line with the formula against less established quarterbacks that has led to an 0-2 road record. Thad Lewis’ only NFL regular-season game was a Week 17 start with Cleveland last season.
“You just have to be good at what you do,” Marvin Lewis said. “They’re going to generally look to play to their strength. We’ve got to get them off schedule.”
Cincinnati’s defense is holding opponents to the league’s seventh-best scoring average of 17.4 points per game.
“It’s definitely fun to watch that defense,” quarterback Andy Dalton said.
The Bengals have allowed a total of 23 points in their last two games but have been outscored in that stretch by four. They’ve gotten into the end zone once in that span and rank 25th overall with 18.8 points per game.
Part of those struggles has been a limited connection between Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. Since they linked up nine times for 162 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 against Chicago, Green has 199 yards and one score in four games.
Dalton has gone consecutive regular-season games without a touchdown pass for the second time in his career – he’s never gone three. He has thrown an interception in three straight and has gone beyond that once in his career.
The Bengals are 10th in the AFC with a minus-2 turnover margin while Buffalo is fifth at plus-3.
Thad Lewis will try to help those totals remain in Buffalo’s favor in his first start with the team.
Coach Doug Marrone told him Monday morning when he arrived at the Bills facility for team meetings that he’d be starting for the injured EJ Manuel.
“We thought it was best for us to move on and play with Thaddeus,” Marrone said. “With Thad, he knows the whole system inside out, so at least we can give him the things that we feel he’s strong with, which gives us a better chance.”
In his only NFL action, Lewis went 22 of 32 for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Browns’ 24-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 30.
After being acquired from Detroit in August, his play late in the preseason led the team to sign him to the practice squad and cut Matt Leinart.
“I just have to go out and put my best foot forward,” Lewis said. “Don’t do too much because you’ve got playmakers around you. But do enough to put us in a good position to get this ‘W.'”
One of his playmakers, wide receiver Stevie Johnson, has just three catches in his last two games for 18 yards. He is expected to be a game-time decision after hurting his back in last Thursday’s 37-24 loss at Cleveland.
The Bills’ offense struggled last week after losing Manuel in the third quarter with a sprained LCL in his right knee. Manuel got the Bills into the red zone before getting hurt on a scramble, and Fred Jackson ran for a TD four plays later to give the Bills a 24-17 lead. The six possessions that followed with Jeff Tuel at quarterback ended with four punts, an interception returned for a touchdown and a turnover on downs.
Bengals cornerback Leon Hall could return after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.
The Bills have won six in a row at home against the Bengals but had a 10-game winning streak in the series snapped in the last meeting, falling 23-20 at Cincinnati on Oct. 2, 2011. Dalton threw for 298 yards, including 118 to Green.
Top Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore will also be a game-time decision as he looks to make his debut after suffering a broken left hand in the preseason. He was limited in practice throughout the week.