The Cincinnati Bengals came into Sunday as the sixth-highest scoring team in the NFL averaging better than 25 points per game. When Buffalo's defense was done with them the Bengals offense managed just 14 points in a 33-21 final.
The Bills biggest success came in defending the run holding Cincinnati to just 28 rushing yards despite the return of feature back Rudi Johnson from a hamstring injury. It was the lowest total allowed by a Bills defense since the New York Giants were held to 23 rushing yards on Nov. 30, 2003 at the Meadowlands.
"That was our goal going into the game," said Angelo Crowell who led the defense with 14 tackles. "We knew they had a very explosive offense, great run and great passing ability. We knew we had to stop one of the two."
"It put a big smile on my face," said Donte Whitner of Cincinnati's 28-yard rushing total. "We didn't really know what we were going to get during the game. We knew we wanted to stop the run and make them one-dimensional and that's what we did."
Bills head coach Dick Jauron pointed to his defensive staff for putting their players in position to succeed.
"Well again I think Perry (Fewell) and the defensive staff had a terrific game plan," said Jauron. "And we change up enough I think to make you a little bit uneasy on that side."
Again Buffalo's defense had some wrinkles in their game plan as Fewell had both safeties playing active roles early.
Donte Whitner was brought on run blitzes on Cincinnati's first series.
"On our first drives we tend to start slow so I think by calling some blitzes in there right away it got our blood flowing and up tempo early," said Whitner.
Whitner wasn't the only safety up near the line of scrimmage as Fewell brought free safety George Wilson down in the box at times as well.
"This was a game where I had to do more than in the past," said Wilson. "Normally I'm back deep, but that can become predictable when you only have one safety moving around. When you have both safeties capable of moving around and up into the box, it makes you more explosive on defense."
Johnson, who in his career averaged 4.9 yards per carry against the Bills coming into the game, managed just 1.2 yards per carry as he gained just 11 yards on nine carries with four going for loss or no gain.
"I knew they were going to try to run the ball more with Rudi Johnson being back and that's what they did," said Crowell. "We felt like they were going to come out and run and we did a good job stopping it and protecting the pass."
The success the Bills had against the run held the Bengals offense down in the first half. After an early touchdown drive by Cincinnati to tie the score at seven, Buffalo forced the Bengals offense to punt on their next three possessions including a pair of three-and-outs, not counting Carson Palmer's kneel down to end the first half.
By the second half the Bengals were ready to go to the air as they ran just nine times in the second half while throwing 26 times.
But Fewell also had a wrinkle or two in pass defense as defensive linemen and linebackers were standing up near the line of scrimmage prior to the snap. It crossed up some of Cincinnati's blocking schemes.
Buffalo's secondary was also able to keep Cincinnati's top receiving tandem under wraps. Aside from the early touchdown reception by T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer held Houshmanzadeh and Chad Johnson to seven catches for 93 yards.
McGee, who drew Johnson as a coverage assignment a good portion of the game, was an active defender with four pass breakups. Meanwhile Greer contributed five tackles and a forced fumble.
"We just came together and found ways to make plays and that's what we've been doing during this run," said McGee.
After Cincinnati's offense put together a successful touchdown drive late in the third quarter to take a 21-16 lead, Buffalo's defense stiffened sending the Bengals three-and-out, three-and-out and four-and-out before Kiwaukee Thomas put an exclamation point on the defensive effort with an interception on Cincinnati's final possession to seal the win for Buffalo.
But Buffalo's defensive success was rooted in the run game, and it rendered Cincinnati's attack more predictable.
"Anytime you hold the run game (down) it allows you to do things differently like come after guys," said Kyle Williams. "Both the run and pass defense kept them in check."
And while Buffalo is gaining confidence with each passing victory, its respect that they're truly after.
"Every Sunday we step out there it's about earning respect," said Crowell. "Guys just don't respect Buffalo. Going out there and beating Cincinnati, stopping an explosive offense eventually gains respect."