First Half Defense. The defense was a tale of two halves. The first half was one to forget. Buffalo couldn't stop the Bengals offense, passing or running. The Bengals did benefit from one short field, and got seven points from the defense. Regardless, Cincinnati sustained three drives that put up 17 points. Cedric Benson is hard to tackle, and Buffalo defenders couldn't wrap him up on initial contact. Bengals receivers were open consistently, and Buffalo had a hard time containing Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Jermaine Gresham, and Jordan Shipley. One was always open and beating the coverage.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Circa First Half. This was where I thought that Fitzpatrick crashed back to earth. Playing against his former team seemed too much of a task. It looked as if Fitzpatrick wouldn't come close to directing a Bills attack that kept pace with the Bengals. He also made bad throws under duress. His two interceptions, including a pick-six, seemed to doom the Bills to a one game winning streak.
Rian Lindell. This may be nitpicking, but kickers are streaky by nature. Lindell seemed to be coming undone at the seams when he missed a field goal, and then shanked a kickoff out of bounds. Lindell is a very good kicker who has been consistent most of his Buffalo career. This week combined with last week leaves me thinking that Lindell might be entering into a funk. Bruce DeHaven needs to be the kicker-whisperer and get his mind right.
Second Half Defense. What a difference a half makes. Kyle Williams was his typical disruptive self. Though Benson continued to gain yards, his advances were negated by poor Bengals receiver route running, pressure on Carson Palmer, and Palmer's own gaffes. The defense created two key turnovers, leading to 14 Buffalo points and bringing the team within a field goal of tying for the lead. Drayton Florence's fumble return for a touchdown and George Wilson's interception deflated the Bengals completely, and the defense shut them down for the rest of the game. Two and a half games of good defense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Circa Second Half. Fitzpatrick showed mental toughness that Trent Edwards and J.P. Losman never did. Despite a bad first half, Fitzpatrick rebounded to throw for four touchdowns on the day, completely carving up the Bengals defense in the process. He remained steady through the second half, made the right reads, and made good throws. Whatever pressure Fitzpatrick felt in the first half was gone for good.
Chan Gailey's Offensive Adjustments. Once the Bengals starting safeties went out with injuries, Gailey went for the jugular. I thought it was interesting that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer mentioned that Buffalo used the spread on offense more than the Colts did the week prior. After watching the game, I think it's a valid observation. The biggest difference is that Buffalo runs effectively while spreading the defense out, or when operating out of a conventional formation. Gailey is doing it without a tight end, with Shawn Nelson still working into the line-up. I'm more of a fan of the grind-it-out Erhardt-Perkins offense, but Gailey's spread-conventional mix is putting up points. Lots of them.
We mentioned that Buffalo was working through a culture change, and it was evident, even in the early games when the outlook was bleak (Jets). The baby steps are starting to come together. Two years ago, Buffalo crumbles after going down 21 points in the first half. This Buffalo team is playing just as hard, but is much tougher, makes proper adjustments, and is starting to do the little things right. While Buffalo has a long, long way to go, the signs are pointing to success.
Next up: A test of Buffalo's new-found toughness and explosive offense on November 28 against the Steelers in Ralph Wilson Stadium.