The Bills were down 21 points in the second quarter and 17 points at the half after a pair of turnovers helped to stake Cincinnati to a 31-14 halftime lead. But Buffalo reversed all the momentum in the second half scoring on their opening drive and then turning a pair of takeaways of their own into 14 points as they outscored the Bengals 35-0 in the second half to win a barnburner 49-31. For Buffalo it was their second straight victory as they improved to 2-8.
The dramatic comeback made the Bills the first team in NFL history to be down by 17 at the half and win by 18 or more points.
For Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had a huge second half and finished with 316 yards passing and four touchdowns, it was a special victory over his former club.
"It was awesome," said Fitzpatrick. "The biggest thing is everybody believed the whole game. Even when we had that big deficit we came in at halftime and everybody believed. This was a big win for us. Like I said once you get that first win you start learning how to win and everything starts falling into place. What a great team effort."
At one point the Bills were down 21 points in the second quarter 28-7. The 21-point deficit is the largest road deficit overcome by the Bills since Oct. 25, 1987 when they rebounded from a 21-point hole to beat the Dolphins in Miami 34-31.
"It would've been easy for this team to fold their tent," said head coach Chan Gailey. "It would've been easy and they didn't. That tells me something about the character of our football team."
Down 31-14 Buffalo scored on their opening drive of the third quarter marching 68 yards on nine plays with Fitzpatrick finding Steve Johnson for a 28-yard touchdown pass to pull Buffalo to within 10 (31-21).
"It was easy, it was basically all Fitzpatrick," said Johnson, who finished with 137 yards and three touchdowns. "I did just one slow move off the line and just ran to the back of the end zone and Fitz put it there. That's pretty much what it was. If he put it to the front or high it probably wouldn't have been completed, but he put it in the right spot and I just caught the ball."
From there Buffalo's defense took over. Two plays into Cincinnati's possession after the Bills touchdown, Cedric Benson was stripped by Marcus Stroud on a run off left tackle. The loose ball was scooped up by Drayton Florence who returned it 27 yards for a touchdown making it a three-point game with 9:43 left in the third quarter.
Cincinnati threatened on their next possession, but on 3rd-and-goal at the Bills five-yard line, George Wilson stepped in front of a Carson Palmer pass intended for Terrell Owens in the end zone and returned it 56 yards to midfield.
"Earlier they hit us with some quick slants and what we call power pass with the quick slant off the play action right there on the goal line," said Wilson. "We knew they were trying to hit us inside, once they got in the tight red zone. But we did a great job. Coach did a great job of making a good call to put us in and we executed it."
Buffalo's offense cashed in eight plays later as Fitzpatrick hooked up with Johnson for the second time in the game on an 11-yard touchdown pass giving Buffalo their first lead of the game less than a minute into the fourth quarter (31-28).
The Bills poured it on from there as Fitzpatrick hooked up with Johnson a third time as he was left wide open over the middle inside the Cincinnati 20. Johnson turned up field and found the end zone for a third time on a 32-yard scoring play putting Buffalo up by 11 with 11:36 left.
"I don't know how he does it," said Fitzpatrick of Johnson. "There are a couple of times I throw him a five-yard route and all of a sudden he just takes off. It's just that ability that he has and nobody can really put a finger on, but that's what makes him such a special player."
From there the Bengals wasted opportunities. In an attempt to make it a one score game with five minutes remaining, Aaron Pettrey pushed a 43-yard field goal wide left. It was the last real threat from Cincinnati as they dropped their seventh straight game.
Fred Jackson capped the scoring with a 30-yard touchdown run with under two minutes remaining after Florence picked off a Carson Palmer pass intended for Jermaine Gresham with 2:37 left.
The Bengals offense got off to a fast start scoring on each of their first three possessions to jump out to a 20-7 lead early in the second quarter. Cincinnati's run game, which has struggled for most of the season, had little trouble picking up consistent yardage on the ground and set up short down and distance on third downs.
Carson Palmer and company converted their first five third down opportunities including a pair of third and goals for touchdowns. Palmer's first of two touchdown passes went to Chad Ochocinco on a quick slant and Terrell Owens ran almost a duplicate play on their second scoring drive.
"Early they came down and scored on us those first two drives and we were a little rattled," said Florence. "It just took us a bit to calm down and go about like the game plan like we knew we should have and that's press those guys on the outside and disrupt the timing because Carson gets a little jittery when he gets pressure around him. We weren't able to do that early, but we were able to do it in the second half."
Cincinnati scored their third touchdown off a turnover when a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass intended for Lee Evans along the right sideline was picked off by Jonathan Joseph at the Bills 34-yard line. After a 26-yard run by Cedric Benson to the Bills three-yard line, Benson capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run two plays later for a 21-7 Bengals lead with 11 minutes left in the first half.
Things went from bad to worse for the Bills on their ensuing possession. On a 3rd-and-7 from their own 23, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw his second interception on a quick slant attempt to Steve Johnson. Joseph jumped the route and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 Bengals advantage.
The Bills looked as though they'd get at least three points back on a 33-yard field goal attempt by Rian Lindell, but he pushed the attempt wide right leaving Buffalo with a 21-point deficit with 4:26 left in the first half.
Buffalo finally found the end zone a second time when Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones over the middle and the rookie outraced the Bengals secondary to the end zone on a 28-yard scoring play to make it 28-14 with 1:17 left in the second quarter.
However, Cincinnati's offense, with all three of their timeouts at their disposal moved deep into Bills territory when Jordan Shipley took a pass underneath across the field to the far sideline for a 26-yard gain to the Bills three-yard line.
After a pass interference call against Buffalo, Cincinnati had a 1st-and-goal from the one situation with 15 seconds left in the half. After a pass interference penalty and a failed run on 1st-and-goal from the one, the Bengals used their second timeout leaving just five seconds on the clock.
Cincinnati chose to run on second-and-goal from the one, but they were stuffed by Paul Posluszny and Akin Ayodele. The game clock appeared to expire, but head referee Ed Hochuli claimed that he blew the whistle on the play with one second remaining allowing the Bengals to use their third timeout and kick a 19-yard field goal on third down giving Cincinnati a 31-14 lead at the half.
It was that questionable call that had Buffalo's players fired up for the second half.
"Obviously guys were upset coming in at halftime at the refs and how we were playing as a team and frustration was boiling over at halftime," said Wilson. "Guys were complaining and complaining and complaining. A few guys including myself in the locker room including myself said, 'Hey forget about the first half. We've put ourselves in that position. We can't worry about the refs. We just have to overcome any adversity that may come up against us. We can't worry about the first half. We've got 30 more minutes to go and determine the outcome of this game.' And that's what we did."
Buffalo's schedule gets considerably tougher as they host Pittsburgh next Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium for a 1 pm kickoff.