ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Marvin Lewis uses the term “flinch” to describe composure. Losing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter of game against a team with an inexperienced quarterback would seem to qualify as flinching. That would be flinching in a bad way.
If you’re lucky, you get a second or third chance to not flinch. The Bengals got those extra chances Sunday, didn’t flinch when they came back around, and got out of Dodge with a 27-24 overtime win against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It shouldn’t have been so hard. It shouldn’t have been so dramatic, coming down to Mike Nugent’s 43-yard field goal with 6:44 left in overtime.
The Bengals failed to put the Bills away when they had the chance in regulation. They didn’t do it on offense. They didn’t do it on defense. They didn’t do it on special teams.
There’s something to be said about overcoming those missed opportunities and eventually getting the job done.
There would be more to be said if the defense, which closed out victories against Green Bay and New England by holding down quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady when it counted, hadn’t allowed the Bills to march 86 yards in seven plays and tie the game with 1:08 left on a 40-yard touchdown pass by Thad Lewis to Marquise Goodwin.
There would be more to be said if the offense, which had broken out of its two-game slump by amassing 388 yards and 24 points through the first three quarters, hadn’t reverted to slump-form in the fourth quarter. The Bengals had four possessions in the fourth quarter but totaled just 42 yards and four punts closing out regulation.
There would have been more to be said if Alex Smith hadn’t been called for holding and wiped out a 24-yard field goal by Nugent late in the third quarter. Or if Nugent hadn’t missed the ensuing 34-yard attempt that would have given the Bengals a three-score lead.
The bottom line is: the Bengals are 4-2 and in first place in the AFC North all alone after Baltimore and Cleveland lost games at home Sunday. Before you get to that bottom line, there still remain plenty of question marks.
“We have to keep coaching and understanding situations,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.
Last week against New England, the offense did just enough while the defense got the headlines for stopping Brady’s 52-game touchdown pass streak in a 13-6 win. The Bills showed what they thought of all of that by scoring 10 points on their first three possessions, gaining 193 yards on 32 plays in the process.
The Bengals figured Lewis out after that, holding Buffalo to 75 yards on 27 plays over the next six possessions. The Bills got a touchdown, but it came off a short-field, starting a drive at the Bengals’ 45-yard line. Then, just like that, they didn’t figure him out. Lewis had 216 yards passing. Four throws accounted for 134 of those yards. Three of the throws came in the fourth quarter, including touchdown passes of 22 yards to tight end Scott Chandler and the 40-yarder to Goodwin.
“Regardless of what happened previously in this game or in games past, just because you stopped somebody last week doesn’t mean you’re going to do it this week,” said cornerback Leon Hall. “You’ve got to get all of that stuff out of your mind, keep playing and hope that you make a play the next time.”
Overtime arrived and that next time came around for all three units. This time, they didn’t flinch.
The offense didn’t score when it got the ball first but drove it enough to allow punter Kevin Huber to pin the Bills back at their own 7. The defense got their fourth three-and-out of the game and punt returner Brandon Tate came up with his longest return of the season – 29 yards – to give the offense the ball back at the Buffalo 33. Three straight run plays set Nugent up for the game-winner.
“I felt like it was my responsibility. I felt I put us in overtime,” said Nugent. “You can’t miss a kick like that… There’s no excuse for it. I hit it terrible. I think it’s one of those things where you’re only as good as your next kick so I’m really happy that the offense and especially Brandon Tate gave us the opportunity to come back and get it.”
The win was the first on the road for the Bengals after losing at Chicago and at Cleveland. It was the first win for the organization in Orchard Park since 1985. There were lots of positives. There are lingering questions but 4-2 is 4-2 and much better than 3-3.
“You’ve got to have a short-term memory playing sports, no matter what it is,” said defensive end Michael Johnson. “You make a good play, what are you going to do the next play? If you make a bad play, what are you going to do the next play? That’s just what happened. We kept playing hard and having fun. We can still be better. That’s the exciting thing.”