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Bills beat Bengals in wild-card push

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Posted: Tuesday, November 6, 2007 12:00 am

ORCHARD PARK - Clearly, the unbeaten New England Patriots aren't trembling at the thought of coming into Ralph Wilson Stadium in two weeks.

But after what happened there Sunday afternoon, at very least the American Football Conference wild-card playoff hopefuls have to be raising an eyebrow the Buffalo Bills' way.

After an 0-3 start, the Bills are suddenly 4-4 after rallying past the underachieving Cincinnati Bengals, 33-21, at "The Ralph" before 70,745 witnesses.

Buffalo has now won three straight for the first time since 2004, has taken four of the last five and as Bills' fans know all too well, two of those defeats literally came on the last play.

If Dick Jauron's team was 6-2, he'd be a strong candidate for NFL Coach of the Year.

As it is, with half a season to go, only three non-division leaders in the conference have better records than Buffalo: Tennessee (6-2) and Jacksonville and Cleveland, both 5-3.

The Bills still play both those latter teams, albeit on the road.

But that's all for later.

WHAT'S FOR now is the components that led to yesterday's victory.

Start with rookie running back Marshawn Lynch (related story, this page).

The first round draft choice from the University of California finally had his breakout game.

He rushed 29 times for 153 yards - his first triple-figure effort in the NFL - including a 56-yard, second-effort run that produced the clinching touchdown.

In addition, Lynch tossed an 8-yard TD pass to tight end Robert Royal on a halfback option that put the Bills up for good.

Then there was quarterback J.P. Losman.

The former starter, trying to retake his job, was a solid 24-of-34 for 295 yards with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans, an ill-considered throw that was intercepted and a fine passer rating of 94.6.

Finally, there was the Bills' defense, short on accolades, but long on performance the last five weeks.

Buffalo stuffed Cincinnati's running game with 28 yards on 17 carries. And while quarterback Carson Palmer was 26-of-39 for 271 yards, 10 of those completions were checkdowns to backs, including a 1-yarder to fullback Jeremi Johnson for a touchdown.

The Bengals' potent wide receiver tandem of T.J. Houshmandzedah and Chad Johnson was held in relative check.

Houshmandzedah, the NFL leader in receptions at over eight per game, was held to four catches for 45 yards, though he had a 15-yard TD reception, the eighth straight game in which he's caught a touchdown.

Johnson, averaging a league-leading 104 receiving yards a game, was held to 48 yards on three catches and had two drops.

But his worst moment came with 1:53 to play when, as he dove for a pass, was hit hard in the head by Bills' safety Donte Whitner.

Though he showed movement, Johnson remained on the ground and was removed by stretcher and taken to the hospital by ambulance where his injury wasn't deemed serious.

"THIS WAS a terrific win for our football team," Jauron maintained. "We got some breaks today, but we made some plays.

"We threw the ball well … obviously we put up 33 points and we haven't come close to that all year (24 was the previous best). All in all, it was just an outstanding day. To get to .500 at the halfway point is quite an achievement "

About the only disappointment was that Buffalo's special teams, among the league's best, surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return to wide receiver Glenn Holt, who was never touched.

"The kickoff return, we have to tip our hat to them, although it was disappointing because we take pride in our teams," Jauron said. "I thought that our guys really took a shot and came back strong, which probably says a good deal about them … they do have a lot of character."

WHAT PARTICULARLY impressed him was how well Losman fared in the pocket.

"One thing that was unbelievable today was our protection," Jauron said. "Our offensive line, our tight ends and our running back protected well. He had a good deal of time back there and he made some good decisions except for the one throw."

And Losman appreciated it.

"The offensive line played excellent and they have been for the last couple of weeks," he said. "I've been a little jealous of Trent (Edwards, the former starter). I think he got hit for the first time against the Jets (last week) and he was like, 'I'm getting hit.' I said, "You don't know what getting hit is." That was the first time he was hit in three weeks.

"The offensive line has been playing great and as a quarterback it feels good. You can get through your reads."

THEN, OF COURSE, there was the play of the defense.

"It frustrates you when people are saying the offenses you play well against aren't good … you feel it discredits your work," said tackle Kyle Williams of the criticism of Buffalo's recent improvement. "But the Bengals' offense is explosive. They're as balanced as you're going to find in the league.

"We knew, coming in, that if we continued to play well and put pressure on them we'd get respect. We played really well today and got the win so it doesn't get any better."

Outside linebacker Angelo Crowell, who had a game-high 14 tackles, agreed.

"Every Sunday we step out there it's about earning respect," he said. "Guys just don't respect Buffalo. Going out there and beating Cincinnati, stopping an explosive offense and doing those types of things eventually gains respect."

It also got the Bills back to .500.

As center Melvin Fowler concluded, "We went into this thing with an 11 game season in our minds (after the heartbreaking last-play loss to Dallas) and (now) we're 3-0.

"We're just going to take it one day, one week at a time and not look past anyone."

Starting with 0-8 Miami.

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