ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Lorenzo Alexander admitted that good teams usually finish off games like the one the Bills played Sunday a lot sooner.
It may have taken a longer, but the Bills still found a way to finish off their first 3-0 start since 2011.
Frank Gore scored on a 1-yard run with 1:50 remaining in rallying the Bills to a home-opening 21-17 victory over the winless Cincinnati Bengals.
Tight end Dawson Knox set up the score by bowling over two Bengals for a 49-yard gain. And cornerback Tre’Davious White sealed the win by intercepting Andy Dalton’s tipped pass on third-and-5 from Buffalo’s 28 with 12 seconds remaining.
“It’s really hard to win in this league,” Sean McDermott said. “It’s hard to win when the momentum has changed like it did and we talked about heart. That’s what we talked about. It’s great to have heart, isn’t it? Great to have heart. You win with heart, and I’m proud of those guys, man.”
The Bills squandered a 14-0 lead and were forced to rally back after the Bengals scored 17 points to take the lead on three consecutive possessions.
A Josh Allen interception on a horrible decision with the Bills up 14-0 jumpstarted the Cincy rally.
“There’s a lot of things to learn from, especially in that 3rd quarter. The interception happened, and that’s something that can’t happen,” Allen said. “A lot of things to learn from. At the end of the day, we got the job done and I’m super proud of our guys for how resilient they were and how we fought back and how we played until the final whistle.”
The Bills were extremely high on the crowd. Micah Hyde said he and Jordan Poyer couldn’t hear each other five feet apart.
On the final interception, White said he was in the wrong coverage because he couldn’t hear what to do. Instead, he simply heeded a message he’d heard often from McDermott.
“Micah made a great play by tipping it and tried to tip it to himself,” White said. “I did a good job or running to the ball. That’s something Coach McDermott preaches every day. Run to the ball and good things happen.”
Hyde said both teams were gassed after four quarters in 80-plus degree heat. “I was able to get a hand on it and my dog Tre’Davious came down with it. Just big, man.”
Buffalo improved to 3-0 for only the third time in 26 years. The Bengals fell to 0-3.
Gore also scored on a 1-yard run and finished 76 yards rushing.
Allen finished 23 of 36 for 243 yards with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Knox and the one costly interception, which set up the Bengals’ first touchdown. Allen was nearly picked off two more times and almost lost a fumble before the recovery was ruled out of bounds.
He also led his second fourth quarter comeback of the season–throwing for 56 yards and rushing for 21 more on the go ahead touchdown drive.
“Josh is special and Josh is in the position he’s in for a reason,” Dion Dawkins said. “Our management, our coaches, all of them, they know exactly what they’re doing. They put a “C” on that kid’s chest for a reason and we’re all rolling behind him.”
Buffalo’s defense dominated much of the game, forcing four turnovers. White finished with two interceptions.
Andy Dalton went 20 of 36 for 249 yards and two interceptions.
Dalton and the Bengals’ offense overcame a dreadful start by coming alive midway through the third quarter — and after Cincinnati got the ball on Buffalo’s 22 following Darius Phillips interception.
Dalton scored on a 1-yard run three plays later to cut Buffalo’s lead to 14-7.
On the Bengals’ next possession, Dalton capped an 11-play, 82-yard drive with a 1-yard pass to Joe Mixon.
Cincinnati then went ahead 17-14 when Randy Bullock hit a 43-yard field goal with 4:54 left.
“We’re never panicking,” Lee Smith said. “We work too many situations. There’s too much attention to detail. Sean talks about his process every day. It’s a very clear message. We’re not up and down and emotional and losing our minds. It’s ‘Hey, next play. Next play. Next play. Doesn’t matter if we’re up by 50 or down by 50, it’s next play mentality.”
Alexander said he wasn’t sure if he’s ever been 3-0 in his career. He says the Bills won’t celebrate this win too long. Not with mistakes to address and the mighty Patriots now less than seven days away.
Getting an ugly win over the Bengals might be a great thing for the Bills. They can learn and grow while still winning at the same time.
“It’s not like we were blowing them out by 30. Two touchdowns is not a big lead in this league,” Alexander said. “What we didn’t do is add on to that lead. They made enough plays to get back and then we finished it off.”
And sent a raucous crowd in Orchard Park home happy.
The Bills honored late superfan Ezra “Pancho Billa” Castro during a pregame ceremony. Castro, a mortician from El Paso, Texas, regularly attended Bills games at home on the road, and died in May after a lengthy battle with cancer. Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, the Bills honored Castro’s wish by bringing him to Dallas to announce their third-round selection of defensive tackle Harrison Phillips at the 2018 NFL draft.
Phillips paid tribute to Castro by wearing a Bills-colored sombrero, which Castro made famous for wearing at games.
Bengals: none reported.
Bills: Starting right guard Jon Feliciano did not return after sustaining a neck injury in the first quarter.
Bengals: prime-time matchup at Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 30.
Bills: host New England Patriots on Sept. 29.