We said in our preview that the Bills would need a Christmas miracle to defeat the Bengals and they seemed to get one, the team played their best game of the year and shocked the Bengals 37-27 in Cincinnati. The loss killed the Bengals chances at obtaining a bye in the playoffs.
Early on it was the same old problems haunting the Bills on Christmas Eve that has haunted them since September but later in the game they regained some of that magic they had down the stretch last year when they won six straight games. In the first half, red zone blues cost them a chance at opening up a lead at halftime. With the way they have played in the 2nd half this year, it appeared glum. That is when the magic returned after a year layoff, Terrence McGee returned a kickoff and an interception for scores in the 2nd half, they are the first two returns for scores on the season for a team that made a habit out of it last year. Kelly Holcomb added a couple of firsts of his own. He scored his first career touchdown and became the first Bill in 45 games to throw for over 300 yards as he finished 24 of 31 for 308 in leading the offense to by far its best output of the season.
The Bills, as usual, dominated most of the first quarter but found themselves trailing 7-6 after the second play of the 2nd quarter. Why? Two trips into the Bengals red zone ended in field goals on their first two possessions. The Bengals first trip in the Bills red zone ended in a touchdown.
The Bills made a huge play on their first offensive play when Kelly Holcomb hit Lee Evans for 65 yards. The only difference between this long play and many others for the Bills 2nd year player was that he was stopped at the 2. An incompletion and two Willis McGahee carries for no gain left the Bills with a field goal.
Their next series got to the 8 yard line after a Troy Vincent interception. That drive stalled thanks to the Bills biggest problem in the red zone, penalties. A false start on Bennie Anderson immediately moved the Bills backwards and made them settle for a second Rian Lindell field goal.
The Bills had a chance to add to their lead but a recovered onside kick, that showed they had nothing to lose, went for naught after Holcomb through an ill advised pass into triple coverage and was picked off. It was his lone mistake of the game.
While the Bills turned the Vincent pick into three points, The Bengals turned the Holcomb interception into seven with a nice 13 play, 69 yard drive to a two yard touchdown run and the lead.
For one of the few times in the past two months the Bills responded with a 9 play, 67 yard drive of their own.
This time they got in the end zone on three yard catch by Evans. The Bills were able to move the ball well all game long as Holcomb was able to feast on a former division foe. Their next possession started off at their own 41 but a bad penalty immediately sent them backwards.
The Bengals were able to drive down for a 41 yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson to give them a 14-13 lead at the half. The stats were dead even as each team had 212 yards offense and exactly 15 minutes time of possession. The bottom line was that the Bengals were able to get into the end zone twice while the Bills struggled in the red zone. The way the year has been going you would have thought it was over but this was a different Bills team on this day.
Coach Mularkey kept the bag of tricks out as they entered the 2nd half, a half that hasn't been kind to the Bills. They pulled out another special teams gadget play and a reverse run by rookie Jim Leonhard set the Bills up at the Bengals 46. Three quality runs in a row by McGahee set the Bills up but another penalty, this one by Daimon Shelton turned a 3rd and 1 into a 3rd and 6. A batted down pass and missed 48 yard field goal by Lindell. Again, you would think this team would fold but not on this day.
This was a game of many big plays, the Bills defense had a couple of their own. After Lindell's miss, the Bengals marched down the field but the Bills made a huge red zone stop. A 3rd and 2 sack of Carson Palmer by Aaron Schobel kept the Bengals out of the end zone and forced a field goal that gave them a 17-13 lead that last :12. That is all it would take for McGee to rumble 99 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. We have waited for it all year, and it seemed ironic he did it the week after being snubbed for a Pro Bowl berth.
Of course the Bills lead was short lived as nothing has gone easy this year. The Bengals drove 74 yards in six plays in just over two minutes to regain the lead 24-20 on a 27 yard pass to Chris Henry who beat Jabari Greer in the end zone.
This was a different Bills offense today though, you just had a feeling they may respond as Holcomb was having one of those magical days that he has had on occasion in his career. He responded by marching the Bills 56 yards in 9 plays after a good return by McGee and a penalty by the Bengals on the kickoff. It wasn't easy on the goal line as they needed help from a defensive holding penalty and sweat out a replay review before being given the go ahead score as Holcomb's second effort on the dive play gave the Bills the 27-24 lead.
This was one of those see-saw games as the Bengals moved right down the field and tied the game on a 39 yard , 10 play field goal drive. The Bills defense stiffed again in the red zone as Angelo Crowell stopped Matt Schobel two yards shy of a first down at the nine yard line forcing the Bengals into tying the game at 27 with 7:27 left.
That is when the Bills went on their best drive of the season, they ate up 6:28 on their way to Lindell's third field goal of the game and a 30-27 lead with :58 left. The drive was full of big plays as it lasted 13 plays and went 66 yards. Holcomb completed to third down passes, a 22 yarder to Josh Reed early in the drive. It was a perfect pass in the slot and Reed made a nice catch while getting hit to convert. Count that is another big play in the game. If he doesn't hold on to it, they have to punt and probably lose the game. Eric Moulds made a huge play as the last of his 10 catches converted a third and 8 and gave the Bills a first and goal. Three running plays later ran the clock down to under a minute.
It's been a long season so fans had to be skeptical when a good kickoff return gave the Bengals the ball at their 40 after the Bills took the lead. But on the 2nd play, a gimpy Palmer threw the ball right into the hands of McGee and he raced into the end zone to seal the upset win.
This year has been a long struggle but the team showed the fans something on this Christmas Eve. They are a team of heart and they showed up to play when they could have been wishing they were home with their families. They put together their most complete game of the season and gave fans something to smile about heading into the Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's holidays.
Here are our exclusive gameballs and goats from the Bills game against the Bengals: