Bills lose lead, fall to Bengals 23-20 on late FG
The kings of comebacks finally lost because they couldn't do something much easier - hold a late lead against a struggling team.
Up by two touchdowns, the previously undefeated Bills came apart.
Rookie Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton led his first NFL comeback, setting up Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal as time ran out for a 23-20 victory Sunday in front of the smallest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium's history.
This one stunned Buffalo (3-1), which had been the AFC's last perfect team.
''It's the worst way to lose it,'' said running back Fred Jackson, who had a 2-yard touchdown run. ''We had an opportunity to put away the game, but we didn't make the plays when we had to.''
The calls went against them, too.
Leading 20-13 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bills had a chance to regain control. On a third-and-1 from their 47-yard line, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pass to Stevie Johnson that would have kept the drive going. The officials ruled he juggled the ball as he fell, a call that was upheld on review.
''It was clearly a catch,'' Johnson said. ''I don't know what the refs were looking at. They went in and reviewed it and still said it wasn't a catch.
''How is that not a catch? It changed a lot. That call definitely changed the game.''
Buffalo had to punt. Cincinnati had its chance.
Many of the 41,142 fans had left when Dalton led a tying touchdown drive, running the final 3 yards on a draw play with 4:09 to go. He got Cincinnati (2-2) in position to pull it out by scrambling for a pivotal first down on the winning drive, helped by a replay overturn that went in his favor.
The youngster's strong finish ended Cincinnati's streak of 10 straight losses against Buffalo since the 1988 AFC championship game.
The Bills got off to that 3-0 start by pulling off historic comebacks, rallying from deficits of 18 against Oakland and 21 points against New England in the past two games. No team in NFL history had such back-to-back comebacks.
This time, it came down to holding a lead. They couldn't do it.
''I don't know if it had anything to do with all the emotion from last week's game,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''It had more to do with us flat-out not showing up in the second half.''
Buffalo went up 17-3 during Dalton's horrid first half. The second-round draft pick was only 7 of 20 for 116 yards with two sacks and an interception that safety Bryan Scott returned 43 yards for a touchdown. His passer rating was a minuscule 15.8 in the opening half.
The rookie finally got going with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals' first touchdown in seven quarters. His draw play tied it, and he scrambled to set up the winning kick the next time Cincinnati got the ball.
On third-and-3 from the Cincinnati 43, he ran away from the rush and dived out of bounds, stretching the ball as far ahead as he could.
It was marked a few inches short of the first down. After a review, the ball was moved about a foot forward, giving the Bengals a first down with 45 seconds left.
Brian Leonard caught a 15-yard pass and ran 14 yards to the Buffalo 25, setting up the winning kick. Dalton finished 18 of 36 for 298 yards. Cedric Benson ran 19 times for 104 yards.
Coming off an emotional win over New England, the Bills were flat on offense and never got moving. They'd scored at least 30 points in each of the first three games, but managed only Scott's touchdown return, Jackson's 2-yard run and a pair of field goals.
''Even when we came in at halftime, we were like, 'Guys, don't let up. We have to come out in the second half still swinging,''' Scott said. ''We know what it feels like to be on the other side of things.''
Last year, the Bills came to Paul Brown Stadium and pulled off a comeback that got them going, rallying behind Fitzpatrick for a 49-31 win after trailing 31-14 at halftime.
Fitzpatrick couldn't make a big play in the second half on Sunday, finishing 20 of 34 for 199 yards.
Notes: Buffalo's Chad Rinehart started at right guard in place of Kraig Urbik, who had been listed as doubtful because of a knee injury. Drayton Florence replaced cornerback Terrence McGee, out with a hamstring injury. ... Fitzpatrick moved past 8,000 yards passing for his career. ... The Bills have returned interceptions for TDs in back-to-back game for the first time since 2009. ... WR Jerome Simpson was back in the Bengals starting lineup. He's been under investigation for a marijuana shipment to his house. He had three catches for 26 yards.