It was a game where the Bills couldn't win, no matter what the score. Many fans expected the Bills to return to the form of the first two weeks and blow out the Bengals (see my preview). A win, needed to be convincing, a statement game for Takeo Spikes. As it turned out one former player almost made it a statement game as former Bills Shayne Graham hit three field goals and put the Bengals in position to pull off a devastating upset of the Bills.
A funny thing happened on their way to a third straight loss though, the team got upset about being booed off the field at halftime and used the 12 minutes to regroup and refocus. The result, was an escape, skin of the teeth, victory in overtime 22-16. The offense returned to their slumping ways by going three and out five of the first seven possessions and turning it over on downs on a sixth. The only one possession that they moved the ball in the first half was a 10 play, 53 yard drive with the wind in the first quarter to the first of three Rian Lindell field goals for the suddenly busy kicker. That drive was saved by Eric Moulds who caught a big pass and recovered a Travis Henry. Lindell's 27 yard kick gave the Bills the 3-0 lead.
It was a typical November weather game in Orchard Park, the problem was it was in early October. There was sun, rain, wind, and even hail. The wind met that most of the scoring was going to come in the tunnel end zone. All but three points were scored in that end so the Bengals already had the advantage by going into the second quarter only down by 3. They would drive for two Graham field goals while the Bills offense continued their ineptness into the wind. The Bills couldn't even capitalize on a Kevin Thomas fumble recovery as the team turned it over on downs. Field goal drives of 45 and 37 yards gave the Bengals the 6-3 halftime lead that led to the boo birds as the teams walked off the field.
Whatever was said in the locker room should be bottled and saved for future use. The Bills came out fired up with the wind at their back in the third quarter and drove down the field for Lindell's 38 yard field goal to tie the game. The Bills could have had more on the drive but Drew Bledsoe fumbled the shotgun snap from Trey Teague killing the drive.
The Bills regained the lead as the offense took advantage of a Aaron Schobel interception. It was the perfect use of the zone blitz as Schobel backed off in coverage and came down with the pass from Kitna. The Bills took five plays to go the 35 yards to their first touchdown of the game. Bledsoe lined up with three receivers on the left but threw right to Henry who barreled into the end zone to give the Bills the 13-6 lead.
It was up to the defense to shutdown the Bengals attack with the wind at their backs in the fourth quarter to preserve the win but they couldn't do it thanks to that old bugaboo, penalties. This time it was the special teams, the Bills went after a Bengals punt but Coy Wire was too aggressive and called for roughing the kicker giving the Bengals new life. They would drive to a 16 yard touchdown run by backup running back Rudi Johnson to tie the game.
The offense self destructed again as they not only went three and out but Bledsoe was sacked on consecutive plays making Brian Moorman punt into the wind from the back of the end zone. He got off a line drive 46 yard punt that Peter Warrick returned 30 yards to the Bills 20. The defense held them on downs and Graham gave the Bengals the lead once again with a 30 yard field goal.
The Bills were sputtering offensively but showing signs of life, now they had 5:27 to drive for a tying field goal into the wind. At this point, nobody had scored going towards the jumbotron but the Bills offense persevered. The 13 play, 59 yard drive to Lindell's 29 yard field goal was filled with many big plays. After one first down, they faced a 3rd and 11 from their 40, Bledsoe found Bobby Shaw along the left sidelines for 14 yards into Bengals territory and a first down. On the next set of downs the Bills faced a 4th and 3 thanks to an offensive pass interference penalty on Moulds. He atoned for his penalty by catching a four yard out pattern, and breaking free for a 19 yard game. Henry caught a five yard completion on 3rd and 6 forcing the Bills to settle for the tying field goal.
The Bengals won the toss in overtime and elected to take the ball. I think the Bills got the better of this deal as they took the wind at their back. The defense forced a three and out as Kitna's 3rd and 2 pass fell incomplete. The Bills took over at their own 43 after a 26 yard punt into the wind. A 20 yard pass to Mark Campbell and a beautiful 28 yard catch and run by Moulds put the Bills deep into Bengals territory. Instead of kicking the field goal they ran it twice with Henry who barreled in behind Ruben Brown and Jonas Jennings for the winning score.
It was a much tougher game than expected and showed more shortcomings for this team. The bottom line is you take a win when you can get one in the NFL and the Bills surely needed it with both the Patriots and Dolphins winning as well. There was a warrior mentality from Moulds and Henry. Moulds tweaked his groin early in the game and then pulled it while trying to get into the end zone in overtime. Henry took a pain killing shot to be on the field then carried the ball 25 times and caught two passes as he would not let up until leading the Bills to the win. So there are positives but the team can't get over confident as they prepare to play the winless Jets fresh off the bye week.
Here are our exclusive gameballs and goats from the Bills win. It was an up and down game with a number of candidates for both sides: