BBD Staff Writer: John Maher
This past Sunday’s game looked from the beginning like we were going to have a great football game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, and we did, well… sort of. Cincinnati scored a field goal on their opening drive and Buffalo replied with a touchdown, to which the Bengals answered back with a touchdown of their own. It had the makings of a great game, and it turned out to be, but we had to wait for the fourth quarter for the true excitement, as the Bills did not score another touchdown between their first drive and the fourth quarter.
This was a game of quarters. After a stunning opening touchdown drive by Bills fill-in quarterback Thad Lewis gave the Bills a 7-3 lead, the Bengals dominated until the fourth quarter, when Lewis threw two touchdown passes to eliminate a 14-point deficit and force overtime.
The Bengals ultimately won in overtime on a 43-yard field goal attempt, but regardless, there were some great takeaways from this game, as well as some areas for the Bills that showed they need improvement.
If you told me last week that Thad Lewis, a nobody on the Bills practice squad at the time, was going to start at quarterback against the Bengals and throw for two touchdowns, run for one, only have one turnover, and have an overall quarterback rating of 100.5 (compared to Andy Dalton’s 105.9), I would have patted you on the head for having such optimism. But that’s just what happened against one of the NFL’s top-10 defenses on Sunday.
Sure, Thad’s game was not perfect, but I do not think anyone expected it to be. He missed a lot of open receivers by throwing balls that were uncatchable, and he was sacked five times for holding the ball way too long. Regardless, Thad kept the Bills in the game by executing the 14-point comeback in thefourth quarter, throwing two beautiful touchdown passes.
The Bills don’t have a quarterback controversy on their hands. What the Bills do have in Lewis is an ideal backup who they can have faith in if anything ever happens to EJ Manuel in the future, and someone who at least gives the Bills a chance to compete for wins in the next three weeks as Manuel continues to recover from a sprained LCL in his right knee.
Worth note is the ease with which terrible puns can be made with Thaddeus’ nick name: THADtastic, SpecTHADular, Not THAD bad, “Who’s Your THADdy?” See? Super easy. If he plays as well as he did on Sunday, except to see signs like those all over the Ralph when the Bills play their next home game versus the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 2.
Yes, the Bills defense played horribly for most of the game, giving up a whopping 483 total yards to the Bengals offense, but safety Da’Norris Searcy might have had the best game of his career. He led all players in Sunday’s game with 13 solo tackles, and had 16 total tackles. Three of those were tackles for loss, including one sack.
Searcy seemed to often get beat on the Bengals’ many screen passes that went for big gains on Sunday, but the whole defense did. It was Searcy on many of the big plays who chased the ball carrier down to make the tackle.
Overall, Searcy is having a decent season. He already has more tackles and sacks than he has either of his past two years, and we’re only six games in.
So far this season, Kiko Alonso has always deserved a place in the First Downs section. He led both defenses in Sunday’s game with a combined 22 tackles. I heard that statistic and I was absolutely dumbfounded. The Bills needed to step up when Manny Lawson left Sunday’s game early with a hamstring injury, and boy, did he ever.
Alonso is the linebacker the Bills have been dreaming of for years. He currently leads the entire NFL with 66 tackles. Defensive Rookie of the Year? I think he has a chance at the Defensive Player of the Year if he keeps it up. (Yes, it’s possible to get as a rookie, Lawrence Taylor did it in 1981.)
Alonso would be the first Defensive Player of the Year for the Bills since Bryce Paup and Bruce Smith went back-to-back in 1995-96, or the first Defensive Rookie of the Year for Buffalo since Shane Conlan in 1987.
Defense (4th quarter and OT)
As I said, this was not a game of halves but rather a game of quarters, and the fourth quarter was the Bills’ quarter. Right off the bat in the fourth quarter, the Bills defense held Cincinnati to a 3-and-out, which set up the offense for a touchdown drive capped by a 22-yard pass from Lewis to Scott Chandler.
All in all, the Bills forced punts on 5 of the last 6 Cincinnati drives, even though they couldn’t get a punt in any of the first 3 quarters. Although the Bills did not pull out a win in overtime, the performance of the defense late in the game gave them a chance.
While the Bills’ punt coverage has been nothing to praise the past three weeks, returning punter Brian Moorman deserves high praise for his play on Sunday.
Even after a terrible 3-and-out, Bills fans gave a standing ovation to Moorman, playing in his first game for the Bills since his first, 12-year stint ended with his release in 2012, as he jogged on the field for his first punt. The fans kept cheering “Moor-man, Moor-man, Moor-man” as his punt went out on the Cincinnati 1-yard line.
Moorman averaged 48 yards per punt Sunday with a long of 57 yards, and downed two of his punts inside Cincinnati’s 5-yard line. While a lot of understandable criticism has been going around about the Bills’ final punt, on which they allowed a 29-yard punt return by Brandon Tate that set up Nugent’s game-winning field goal, the blame for that return should ultimately fall on the coverage team.
Welcome back, Brian.
The Buffalo Bills’ draft class looks stellar so far this year. First-round pick EJ Manuel was off to a very good start as the team’s quarterback before he was injured. Alonso, one of the Bills’ two second-round picks, has been amazing thus far, while fellow second-round pick Robert Woods had a pretty weak game on Sunday playing the role of No. 1 wide receiver, but has had a great overall season so far.
In his first game back after missing four weeks with a hand injury, third-round pick Marquise Goodwin (all 5’9” of him) had a solid perofrmance. While he did not live up to the hype as a kickoff returner, gaining 94 yards on four returns with a long of just 26 yards, he had two receptions for 51 yards including the game-tying 40-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
With his 4.27-second 40-yard dash speed, Goodwin could develop into an ideal slot receiver for the Bills, setting up a solid receiving corps with No. 1 wideout Stevie Johnson, who was inactive for Sunday’s game after missing practice due to a back injury and personal reasons, and Woods.
All the Pink
The NFL does a great deed in October with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where everyone and everything is bright pink. I can honestly say I only know about Breast Cancer Awareness Month because of the NFL, and the awareness can inspire women to get checked and prevent breast cancer in its early stages.
This past Sunday, 50,000 Yowie® rally bands were given out to all fans as they walked in the stadium. As I sat in the upper deck of section 312, I saw Bills and Bengals fans everywhere wearing their Yowie in multiple fashions, and I got a sense of appreciation of what the NFL does for women across the United States. (If you need to know what a Yowie is, check out this video.)
See page 2 for a look at what didn’t go well for the Bills on Sunday.