Fay: Bengals' win against Bills was the difference between hopeful and hopeless

CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton was heading to shower when he made a quick detour to chat with A.J. Green.

“Those are on me,” Green said. “Everyone will think Andy had a bad game.”

“I’ll take them,” Dalton said. “They’re mine.”

They were referring to the two interceptions that went off Green’s hands. Green also fumbled after a catch.

The three-turnover day was a first for Green, but the Bengals were able to laugh about it because they came out with a 20-16 win over the Buffalo Bills on a rainy, nasty day at Paul Brown Stadium.

“I had all three turnovers,” Green said. “It sucked, but the defense bailed us out. Andy bailed me out. Joe (Mixon) making big runs. (Tyler Kroft) making big catches. The whole team saved my butt today."

The win was the difference between going into the bye week 2-3 and going into the bye week 1-4. In other words, the difference between hopeful and hopeless. 

Dalton was 22-for-36 for 328 yards a touchdown, despite getting hit low early in the game and limping noticeably.

“He fought through it,” Lewis said. “He overcame some pain and stayed in the football game.”

Lewis was clearly proud of the way his team played.

“They kept fighting,” he said. “There were plays that weren’t quite our best today, but we overcame them and made the next play. We hung in there together ... we needed to win a game in the third and fourth quarter.

“The last two seasons, we haven’t done that. We were very good at that for a long time. We took a step in the right direction today.”

Here are nine takeaways from the game: 

1. Green day

The first ball that went off Green’s hands for a pick was a high throw. It led to the Bills’ first touchdown. The second one was right in Green’s breadbox. 

The defense picked him up after the second one and forced a three-and-out, but Green gave it back again. He made a catch and was running free at the Buffalo 19, but he fumbled after a hard hit by Lorenzo Alexander. (Alexander, by the way, could have been flagged for targeting.)

The fumble led to a Buffalo field goal, which gave the Bills their first lead of the day at 13-10.

After the fumble, Lewis asked Green if he was all right. He said he was.

“I said, ‘OK, go out and win the game,'” Lewis said. 

Green made a 47-yard catch and run to set up Mixon’s 5-yard touchdown on the next drive. That proved to be the game winner.

“That’s one thing about me: It happens. It’s behind me. On to the next play,” Green said.

The Bengals have used the draft heavily to try to get Green help. 

Maybe he doesn’t need it.

He caught seven passes for 189 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown. Green still runs pretty well at 29 years old. That was evident on his 77-yarder. He got great separation on rookie corner Tre’Davious White to get open, and he outran everyone once he caught it. 

2. Burfict's big 

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict finished with 13 tackles, three for loss, a sack and a pass defense in his second game back from suspension. Burfict has always been Lewis’ No. 1 pupil. Did they have many conversations this week?

“I don’t have enough time in here for my conversations with Vontaze,” Lewis said. “Just play.” 

Lewis and Burfict had some words after the the game was in the bag.

“He told me I had to enjoy it,” Lewis said. 

The Bengals held the Bills to 221 yards and one touchdown, despite the turnovers. 

“That’s huge,” Burfict said. “You’ve got to be ready for a sudden change.”

3. Clinching it 

The Bengals went 59 yards in 11 plays and took 5:20 off the clock on a drive that ended with Randy Bullock’s 29-yard field goal. The score was 20-16.

The defense only needed to keep the Bills from scoring a touchdown. Michael Johnson sacked Tyrod Taylor on first down. LeSean McCoy was stopped for no gain on second down. On third-and-14, George Iloka picked off Taylor to ice it.   

“(Defensive coordination Paul Guenther) plays ‘Closing Time' in our room,” Iloka said. “He tells that’s what we have to do: Close it.”

4. Andre the giant 

Andre Smith started at right tackle instead of Jake Fisher. Smith played left tackle for Cedric Ugbuehi on the second series. The Bengals have been using Smith to spell both tackles. 

Smith, the veteran, has graded out better than both and seems to have solidified the line play a bit. 

5. Strong Carl 

Rookie Carl Lawson tied for the strongest player at the NFL Combine with 34 reps in the 225-pound bench press. That’s great, but weight room strength doesn’t always translate to football strength. With Lawson, it seems to show up on the field. 

On his assist on Geno Atkins’ sack Sunday, Lawson overpowered Cordy Glenn, who was getting help. Glenn is listed at 345 pounds, Lawson’s 260.

“That’s what I can do,” Lawson said. "I can beat you with strength or finesse.”

Lawson added a sack in the third quarter to stop a Bills drive. The same drive that he extended with a late-hit penalty. 

6. Mean-o Geno 

Atkins has that ability to blow up a play. The Bills were moving the ball as the second quarter wound down. But on third-and-2, they tried to convert on a LeSean McCoy run. Atkins hit McCoy before he ever got started. 

Drive over.

Atkins had a sack and two tables for loss.

7. Injuries hurt 

The Bengals played most of the game without their starting cornerbacks, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. 

Jones (back) and Kirkpatrick (shoulder) were declared out with injuries before the first half ended. That meant the young corners, Williams Jackson and Darqueze Dennard, played pretty much every down of the second half.

“Today (Jackson) had to rise up, and he did,” Lewis said. “Darqueze has answered the bell every time we’ve asked. These guys are deserving, that’s why we have them here. I’m happy with how they played today.”

8. Rush is on

The Bengals sacked Buffalo quarterback Taylor twice in the first half. They also had him under constant pressure. But Taylor escaped time and time again to make plays in the first half.

The rush began to get home more in the second half. The Bengals came away with six sacks on the day. 

9. Rush is off

The Bengals continue to struggle to get the running game going. They netted 30 yards on 11 carries in the first half. Subtract Mixon’s 12-yard run, and the Bengals had 19 yards on the other 10 carries. 

It got better in the second half. Mixon ran one in from five yards out after Green's 47-yard catch. And the Bengals ran it effectively on the drive that clinched the game. Mixon had 22 yards on seven carries in the fourth quarter.

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

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