Leave it to Bills elder statesman Kyle Williams to put Sunday’s 16-12 victory on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals in perspective. “We take pretty wins. We take ugly wins. We take wins however we can get them.”
In other words, beggars can’t be choosers. Not at this juncture of the season when virtually every win is a must win if Buffalo is going to have any chance of securing a wildcard. This victory evened the Bills record at 5-5 and kept alive their feint postseason aspirations. They still probably have to win five of their next six, starting with their return to New Era Field for a game against lowly Jacksonville next Sunday. I still believe the odds of them going on that kind of run are about the same as me staying away from the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie this Thursday.
The Bills caught a break in this one when elite receiver A.J. Green suffered a pulled hamstring on the Bengals third play of the game and did not return. That pulled the plug on Cincinnati’s deep passing game.
Buffalo also benefited from two missed extra points by kicker Mike Nugent, though the first attempt was undermined by a high snap. The loss of those two points totally altered the Bengals strategy on their final series, when, instead of driving for a winning field goal attempt, they were forced to go for a touchdown because they were trailing by four. Fortunately for the Bills, they were able to bat away Andy Dalton’s Hail Mary pass as time expired.
But let’s give the Bills some credit. They had to overcome two more debilitating injuries. Wide receiver Robert Woods, who was coming off a career game with 162 receiving yards against Seattle, had to depart with a gruesome-looking knee injury in the first quarter. And running back LeSean McCoy couldn’t return after dislocating his thumb near the end of the first half.
Mike Gillislee once again proved to be a dependable insurance policy, rushing for 72 yards on 14 carries in place of McCoy.
But the real stars of this game could be found on the Bills defense, especially in the second half. After intermission, Buffalo limited the Bengals to 38 yards and forced them to punt on five consecutive possessions. It wasn’t until that final frenetic drive that the Dalton gang racked up any significant yardage, and it proved to be a case of too little, too late.
Although the stat sheet credited him with only four tackles, Williams disrupted many a play with his relentless pursuit of quarterback and ballcarriers. And defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, finally back after missing eight of the first nine games because of injuries and suspension, also was an immovable force, tying up numerous blockers.
Also encouraging was the play of maligned cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who picked off Dalton twice. No one seemed more pleased about Gilmore’s bounce-back in recent games than Coach Rex Ryan. “I’m challenging him to be the player I know he is,’’ Ryan said. “And, shoot, he’s responded great.”
After Gilmore returned one of the picks deep into Bengals territory, Ryan hustled down field to congratulate him. “When the head coach runs all the way to the end zone to shake your hand after an interception it makes you want to keep fighting for him,’’ said Gilmore, who is playing for a potentially huge contract either from the Bills or some other team when he becomes a free agent after this season.
Another plus was the kicking of Dan Carpenter. On a day when his counterpart was struggling with extra points the way Carpenter did last season, the Bills kicker drilled three field goals, including a season-long 54-yarder that wound up being huge. It was the 14th kick of 50-or-more yards during his Bills career, breaking Steve Christie’s team record.
Those hoping quarterback Tyrod Taylor would build on his sterling performance against the Seahawks two Monday nights ago were disappointed. He completed 19-of-27 for 166 yards and threw an awful pick near the Bengals end zone which cost the Bills at least three points and possibly seven. He did make some plays with his legs, rushing for 39 yards, and had a 3-yard touchdown run nullified by a holding penalty against guard Richie Incognito.
It’s still difficult to accurately assess Taylor because of all the injuries to his top receivers. He was just beginning to build a little chemistry with Woods and then the receiver suffered what looks like a season-ending knee injury. Charles Clay led the Bills with five receptions on seven targets for a paltry 23 yards. The highly compensated tight end continues to be a big disappointment. He has yet to make his first touchdown catch of the season.
So the Bills still have a pulse. Before Sunday’s game a Las Vegas oddsmaker gave them a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs. If they were to run the table and finish 11-5, their chances would be 99 percent. If they suffer just one more loss their odds would be 67 percent. And if they lose two of their remaining six their odds drop to nine percent.
They should be able to take care of Jacksonville, which will feature the return of former head coach Doug Marrone to Buffalo as a Jags assistant. Then, Buffalo will travel to Oakland to play an up-and-coming good Raiders team. Consecutive home games vs. Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Miami follow, before a regular-season finale against the Jets in the Meadowlands.
The Bills can win any and all of those games. But to win five or six of them seems like asking a lot, especially if they are without McCoy and Woods.
WROC-TV correspondent Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills for 32 years and has written five books about the team’s history. The Professional Football Writers of America has recognized his work 12 times, including the past three years when he has finished first in column writing.