It is difficult to hate the Bills. Some teams, of course, are easy to loathe: Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Browns, New Jersey Jets, and so on. Some people like the Bills because of the swashbuckling way they are upsetting the mostly obnoxious AFC East. I like the Bills because TV producers love cutting to quarterbacks on the sideline staring at clipboards. Whilst most quarterbacks appear to be looking with fervent concentration at helpful tips such as: “Important—Don’t Throw Interceptions” in big block letters, Ryan Fitzpatrick looks as though he’s working on Fermat’s Last Theorum.
I liked them considerably less by halftime on Sunday. The lovely opening drive that stalled in the red zone was so 2010-11 that the Bengals decided to go all retro 2008 on us (a year in which, of course, Ryan Fitzpatrick was our quarterback, and I know that I, for one, continually said things like: “I bet in two years he’s online for 4,000 yards and beating Tom Brady in the MVP race”). Particular highlights being a Fitzpatrick pass bouncing off his receiver’s shoulder but landing in his (then unguarded) teammate’s hands for a first down and, best of all, Andre Caldwell reeling in an Andy Dalton pass only to not only drop it but fall into a mid-air punt to create an interception. It should tell you something that when we actually converted a third down, it got the biggest cheer I’ve heard in two weeks. When Dalton threw his second interception within a five minute span (this one was actually his fault), Sridhar joined us, indeed every Bengal in the immediate vicinity, for a speechless moment of recognisable horror. It was a peculiar moment, this sea of orange and black with one expression; that which one imagines a dog giving his owner post-neutering—sadness, disappointment, but predominantly betrayal. Despite having fairly comfortably dealt with everything the Bills had to offer, we found ourselves 17-3 down at halftime.
What happened next is hard to explain but it seems as though, well, Andy Dalton got a little bit cross. In fact, all the kids on our team did. A.J. Green made the sort of catches that don’t seem human to anyone who isn’t a Lions fan (or doesn’t have Megatron on their fantasy team). Gresham provided the muscular, powerful safety net Dalton needed. Geno Atkins and MJ started wreaking havoc on the Bills D-line, and Rey Maualuga started throwing the previously unstoppable Fred Jackson around like a rag doll. We even (and only Bengals fans can know how implausible this is) had some calls go our way; one so in particular when the officials inexplicably but delightfully ruled a Bills’ potentially game-ending third down pass incomplete if for no other reason than that Andy Dalton definitely deserved a shot at finishing what he breathtakingly started.
He did. He mixed it up too: an athletic TD catch for Gresham, one for himself on a classic quarterback draw, and having pulled a 17-3 deficit back to a 20-20 showdown, the defense (and generous officials, love those guys) set him up with a final minute drive to win it. Thanks to a few Brian Leonard screens, but predominantly to Dalton’s inexcusably risky and utterly brilliant “Superman” style dive for a first down, he left Mike Nugent four seconds to hit a game-winning field goal.
This was a fabulous comeback, most especially because the protagonists were all so young. Gresham, he of one year in the NFL to this point, seemed like the veteran. That said, with the propensity of the Bengals for last minute disaster, the unlikelihood of our young (frequently dismissed) team upsetting the “all of a sudden media darling” Bills, and the losing mentality that settled over the team so easily, we would have been horrified but not surprised if Shayne Graham had replaced Nugent at the last minute. He didn’t. Elation. The field goal was good. More elation. Oh, it will be ignored, of course. ESPN struggles to fit its daily mandatory twenty three and a half hours of Tony Romo coverage as it is. If Michael Vick gets the sniffles or chips a nail then they will barely have any time left to talk about the Jets (2-2 by the way, same record as us…).
But that’s OK. Sunday was electrifying. All the more so, of course, because the Steelers and Browns lost. Dalton, Green, Gresham, Atkins, and friends may have only played and looked like winners for one half on Sunday. But, unlike 2008, unlike 2010…it was the important half. Bengals 23, Bills 20.