Until four weeks ago it seemed anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Bills, as they were being outscored a combined 77-14 in the third quarter.
Now it seems nothing can wrong for the Bills in the third quarter.
Buffalo has outscored its opponents a combined 30-7 in the third stanza the last four games, including three third-quarter shutouts and its first two victories of the season.
Coach Chan Gailey said the team hasn't changed its second-half approach the last few weeks; it's just hitting its mark now.
"I can't tell you that I've been giving any different talk at half than I was before," Gailey said. "Our execution is better in the third quarter. That's the bottom line. I think probably our coaches are doing a pretty good job with halftime adjustments."
The Bills have the second-highest third-quarter scoring output in the league the last four weeks, trailing only New England (34). After turning the ball over four times in the third quarter the first six games, the Bills have turned it over just once in the third since.
Running back Fred Jackson said the offensive line has done a better job protecting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick the last few games.
"We're able to keep Fitz on his feet," Jackson said. "He's able to look downfield and make some plays. As long as we can pass protect better for him, it gives us an opportunity to convert."
Fitzpatrick said there isn't much specifically to point to regarding the improvement, other than each player doing his job.
"Honestly, some of it's probably just chance that the third quarter was bad (early on)," Fitzpatrick said. "I think we've always been good at making adjustments; it's just going out there and making the plays. I think we've just made more plays as the season has gone on, especially the last few weeks."
Buffalo outscored Cincinnati 35-0 in the second half last Sunday – with 14 of those points coming in the third quarter – after trailing 31-14 at halftime. The Bills' defense forced two key Bengal turnovers in the third quarter; with cornerback Drayton Florence returning a fumble 27 yards for a touchdown, and safety George Wilson intercepting a pass in his own end zone to halt a potential scoring drive.
Gailey said a combination of slight defensive adjustments and emotion led to the second-half onslaught in Cincinnati.
"We were able to slow them down and actually shut them out in the second half, which was amazing in itself," he said. "I think our players were extremely upset with the way the first half ended and they wanted to go out and win the game. They said, 'Let's make a way to win (rather than) find a way to win.'"
The Bills have allowed the fourth-fewest third-quarter points in the league (7) the last four weeks.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny said fitting in to its relatively new 3-4 scheme has been a key factor in the defense's improvement of late.
"We're able to make halftime adjustments and go from there, but the main thing is we've gotten more comfortable with our defense," Posluszny said. "As the game goes on, we feel better about how we're being attacked."
Fellow linebacker Chris Kelsay agreed with Posluszny, saying the defense has adapted and become more united during that time frame.
"We're trusting the (scheme) and we've made some changes throughout the game that, from a game-plan standpoint, have put us in a better position to make plays," Kelsay said. "We're trusting each other, and just playing hard and doing our job."
Posluszny said big plays defensively – as was the case Sunday – don't hurt, either.
"Turnovers and sacks are always the most important things for us, so we have to make sure we … continue to do that each game," he said. "We need to make sure we do that every game because that's such an important part of the game for us."
Kelsay said the defense is getting to the point where it can seize control of the game, and hopes to build on that as the season progresses.
"We've shown that the last couple weeks," he said. "We've had opportunities to do so, and for the most part we've made the most of those opportunities. We're just plugging away; we're playing four quarters and not getting ahead of ourselves."