Cincinnati scored touchdowns on its first two drives for a third consecutive game, and the fast start was enough to build a lead the Bengals wouldn’t lose in a much-anticipated primetime matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
The Bengals took a 14-point lead into halftime and never trailed in a 24-18 win Sunday night at Paycor Stadium, almost 10 months after Damar Hamlin collapsed in cardiac arrest on the same field to end a Week 17 matchup last season in the first quarter. The teams also met in a divisional round playoff game Cincinnati won in dominant fashion last year in Buffalo.
Clinging to a 21-10 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, the Cincinnati defense forced and recovered a fumble at its own 12-yard line, for the second takeaway of the game, and that proved key in preventing a comeback. Nick Scott upended Buffalo tight end Dalton Kincaid as he was making a catch at the Bengals’ 12-yard line, and Germaine Pratt punched the ball out of his hands in the process. Dax Hill recovered, and Cincinnati ended up with a 20-yard field goal from Evan McPherson to regain a 14-point lead with 8:08 left.
The Bengals also got a third-down stop in the redzone on the first drive of the second half to force the Bills to settle for a field goal, but the fumble could have been the difference in the game. Josh Allen connected with Stefon Diggs on a 17-yard touchdown and again on the two-point conversion to account for the game’s final points with 3:32 left.
Joe Mixon converted a key third down on a run just after the two-minute warning, and Cincinnati was able to run out the clock to seal the victory, which moved the Bengals to 5-3. Their four previous wins came against NFC West competition.
Hamlin was inactive Sunday but was on the field during warmups and used the trip back in town to treat to dinner 10 of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center staff who helped save his life. He also named scholarships after those individuals to support youth in the city to chase their dreams.
Much like that Jan. 2 matchup that ended early, the Bengals got going early as Joe Burrow completed all six of his passes on the opening drive for 65 yards, capping it off with a 7-yard touchdown to Irv Smith Jr. The Bills responded with a touchdown drive of their own to tie the game when Allen scored on a 2-yard run as he pointed a taunting finger at Scott on the way into the end zone.
However, Buffalo (5-4) wouldn’t reach the end zone again until it was too late to complete a comeback.
The Bengals just kept plugging away on offense, and Joe Mixon gave them another lead on his own 2-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 with 35 seconds left in the first quarter. After both teams punted the next two drives, Cam Taylor-Britt picked off Allen for his third interception of the season to put the offense at the Bills’ 32-yard line with about nine minutes left in the half.
A delay of game and an offensive holding call forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal attempt on the ensuing drive — during which Burrow injured his finger without exiting the game — but a false start on Orlando Brown Jr. negated Evan McPherson’s 55-yarder that went through the uprights.
Instead of getting points off the turnover, Cincinnati punted, but BJ Hill’s third-down sack on Allen forced a three-and-out for Buffalo, and the Bengals got the ball at the Bills’ 45-yard line with 3:29 left in the half and this time they took advantage. Drew Sample caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage and took it to the house for a 22-yard touchdown, just the second one of his career.
Burrow finished with 348 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-44 passing, and Tee Higgins caught eight passes for 110 yards. Allen completed 26-of-38 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
Texans at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7