ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22: Preston Brown #52 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after he recovers a fumble during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on September 22, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy Ludwig/Getty Images)

Bengals Report Card: Grading the 21-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor told reporters he knows the “wolves are coming” to criticize his winless team.

While they may be easy prey for critics, there were still good moments in their 21-17 loss at Buffalo on Sunday. Cincinnati bounced back from a 14-point deficit by scoring 17 points on three consecutive drives to take a lead with 4:54 remaining, but the defense couldn’t hold it. Frank Gore’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:50 left sealed the win for Buffalo, as the Bengals fell short on the final drive.

»RELATED: Taylor remains confident despite 0-3 start

Taylor still insists Cincinnati will take the bad with the good and learn from it, but one thing is certain. The Bengals need a positive result as they now have lost 10 of their last 11 games dating back to the midway point of 2018.

Here are the Week 3 report card grades:

RUN OFFENSE

The Good: Earlier in the week, Joe Mixon took on a disproportionate amount of the blame for the team’s running game struggles, and he responded with an improved performance Sunday. He finished with 61 yards on 15 carries (4.1 yards per carry) a week after rushing for 17 yards on 11 carries.

The Bad: The Bengals still haven’t quite found the balance they seemed to be seeking in the running game. They only finished with 67 yards on 19 carries, as Giovani Bernard ran just three times for five yards.

»PHOTOS: Bengals vs. Bills

Key Play: After the Bengals got on the board to cut the deficit to 14-7 in the third quarter, the defense got a stop and Mixon ran for 14 yards on the very next play from scrimmage. That was a crucial for the Bengals to keep the momentum there and they ended up tying the game that drive on Mixon’s 1-yard touchdown catch. Earlier in the game, when Buffalo initially got on the board, Mixon didn’t have success on first or second down the next possession and the Bengals ended up punting and then allowing another score to fall further behind. He was much more effective in the second half.

Grade: B-

PASS OFFENSE

The Good: Auden Tate had the best game of his young career, finishing with six catches for 88 yards. He seems to have overtaken Damion Willis as A.J. Green’s replacement – he played 89 percent of the offensive snaps. Andy Dalton overcame a poor start to complete 20 of 36 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown, though he still had his moments of struggle down the stretch.

The Bad: Dalton threw two interceptions, including the one that killed the final drive when he overthrew Tate, a big target to miss. John Ross had a rough day, catching just two passes for 22 yards on six targets and fumbling at the end of a 7-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage after the Bills went ahead 11-0 in the second quarter.

Key Play: The Bengals were on the Bills’ 28-yard line with 20 seconds left when Dalton threw his second interception. Tate got a hand on it but couldn’t have done much more to prevent the overthrown ball from getting picked off. Dalton also underthrew a third-down pass to Tyler Boyd on the previous drive when the Bengals settled for a Randy Bullock field goal.

Grade: D+

RUN DEFENSE

The Good: The Bengals saw some improvement in the run defense, although it still isn’t where it needs to be. A week after giving up 259 yards on the ground to San Francisco, they kept the Bills at least a little bit more at bay. Sam Hubbard forced a fumble on a T.J. Yeldon carry, which Preston Brown recovered, in the second quarter, but the offense didn’t make anything of the turnover.

The Bad: The Bills still managed 175 yards on 36 carries even without their most explosive runner, as rookie Devin Singletary was out injured. Frank Gore churned out 76 yards on 14 carries and five other players carried the ball.

Key Play: The Bengals stopped Josh Allen short of a first down on third-and-5 on an important drive in the fourth quarter after they had tied the game at 14. They took the lead the next drive but then after a big pass play moved the Bills into the red zone, they ran five times to score the game-winning touchdown.

Grade: D

PASS DEFENSE

The Good: The Bengals sacked Josh Allen just once but pressured him into two fumbles (that he recovered), and he finished with 243 yards and one touchdown with one interception, picked off by Darius Phillips.

The Bad: Allen isn’t the most consistent passer but he torched the Bengals defense on some big throws and somehow managed to escape trouble when the pass rush came at him.

Key Play: On second-and-3 with 4:25 left and the Bengals leading 17-14, Dawson Knox caught a short pass and turned it into a 49-yard gain, and there was no stopping the Bills after that. They scored five plays later to regain the lead for good.

Grade: C

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Good: Kevin Huber had three punts inside the 20-yard line. Randy Bullock made a 43-yard field goal on his only attempt of the day.

The Bad: The Bengals had two penalties on special teams, including one that negated a 92-yard kick return for a touchdown.

Key Play: After the Bills took an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, Darius Phillips returned the kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, but it was negated by a holding penalty on Tate. That could have changed the course of the game early on.

Grade: C+

COACHING

The Good: Taylor and his staff made adjustments in the second half, and the Bengals were able to climb back with three consecutive scoring drives for the lead. They also got the running game going better during a week they felt it was crucial to do so.

The Bad: The defense is still giving up too many big plays, and the run defense in particular needs to be better.

Key Play: The Bengals looked gassed on the Bills’ final drive. The pass to Knox was one they should have been able to contain, but he turned it into a game-changing catch.

Grade: C+

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