By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
As disappointing as the Bills fall back to earth is for Bills fans, the 23-20 loss at Cincinnati isn't the end of the world, but it is a strong indicator that the Bills still have plenty of work to do to be thought of as an elite NFL team. They're a fun team to watch filled with over achievers and they are improving rapidly under gm Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey, but they are by no means where they want to be.
Sure, you can look at a couple plays in Cincy and say the game would be different, etc., but that's what losers do. The Bills are not "losers", but a couple bad breaks didn't cause them their first loss of the season after their surprising 3-0 start.
The most glaring bad call came when Stevie Johnson's catch for a first down on 3rd and 2 in Bengals territory was ruled incomplete, and the replay didn't show enough evidence to overrule the call on the field. Johnson, certain that the catch was good, told Gailey to challenge the play, and to me anyway it was clear Johnson had his hand under the ball as he hit the ground. It should have been a first down putting the Bills close to at least field goal range with 8:20 left in the game, but the Bills wound up punting.
I still don't agree with the NFL "Tuck Rule", and it cost the Bills a defensive touchdown in the 1st half. Chris Kelsay and a couple other Bills hit qb Andy Dalton and knocked the ball loose, with Bryan Scott picking it up to score an apparent touchdown that would have given the Bills a 10-3 lead. After the replay, the "Tuck Rule" was called -a correct call according to the rule - and the td didn't count. The problem I have with the rule, is that the quarterback isn't trying to throw a pass; it's just the opposite, he's trying NOT to throw a pass. So why is it an incompletion? I understand that if the arm is hit as its moving forward for a throw, then it should be ruled an incomplete pass. But the act of tucking the ball down shouldn't be considered a pass attempt. If that ball comes out, it should be a fumble.
It doesn't really matter though, because the Bills simply were not good enough to win this game.
Defensively, the Bills gave up an eye-popping 458 yards, and that's not the worst of it. Gailey said his TOP priority this season was to stop the run, and the Bills gave up 171 yards rushing, with Cedric Benson picking up most of his 104 yards in the Bills second half melt down.
To be fair, the Bills "d" did come up with two more int's, and they lead the league with 8 through four games, and Wilson't alert "pick six" helped the Bills forge a seemingly safe 17-3 halftime lead. The bad news, is that when your team finishes a game a plus two in the plus/minus stat, it should win the game. The Bills forced two to's, scored on one of them, didn't turn the ball over once, and still lost? That simply means you were outplayed pretty thoroughly.
Cincinnati, although solid defensively, is not a good team. Not by a longshot. Losing to the Bengals is not a disgrace by any means, but losing to the Bengals also gives us a better idea of what we're looking at with this Bills team.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, though sacked only once, did throw under pressure much of the day and missed some open targets. No surprise here, as we all know he's not Tom Brady, and he still probably played well enough to win. Fred Jackson had 65 yards rushing on 17 carries and a touchdown against the #1 defense against the run in the NFL after three weeks. Not bad.
You win as a team and lose as a team, and there's still lots of football left. But unless the Bills defense improves; and the Bengals are hardly an offensive juggernaut, the Bills won't be good enough to play in the post season - again.
This doesn't take away from the first three wins at all. KC finally got a win, and we know the Raiders and Patriots are both pretty good. But this loss does show us, for at least a week, that there is still a way to go.