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Posted: Sunday, 13 October 2013 7:19PM

Sideline Reactions: Bengals 27 - Bills 24

Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550)  -- If you looked at the matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals on paper heading into the game, most would conclude that the game would end with a predictable result.

The Bills were down to essentially their third string quarterback, missing their top wide receiver, their top running back was saddled with an ankle injury and an overwhelming opposing roster that has as much depth as any in the NFL. Contemplating all those factors, a lopsided Buffalo loss was the likeliest outcome to some.

Defying the odds, the Bills showed their resolve and turned it into one of the most competitive games of the weekend. A 27-24 overtime loss to one of the better teams in the AFC won't pad their win-loss record, but it was an indication that despite all the adversity this Bills team could overcome the obstacles.

Thad's debut
- Without EJ Manuel, the Bills were supposed to lay an egg. Most around the country assumed the Bengals would run away with the contest. Surprising many, Thad Lewis turned in a performance -- on a bum foot for most of the game, mind you -- that is worthy of positive reviews through and through. Lewis showed poise throughout the contest despite all the factors working against the Bills and their offense. He started off the game on fire, bringing Buffalo down for a touchdown on his very first drive. He hit deep passes and showed good velocity on some of his throws. It wasn't a Pro Bowl worthy performance by any means, but doing what he did -- getting called up from the practice squad and starting that week -- is a performance to be commended. Even with the injury to his right foot, Lewis was able to keep the game alive with clutch throws. His day will surely be highlighted by his 40-yard touchdown pass to the speedy Marquise Goodwin and for good reason. He made a few mental errors though, including some throws behind receivers and not taking care of the football with the lost fumble. In spite of that, Lewis showed that even without Manuel the Bills still stood a chance. Now they'll just have to hope the injury isn't a serious one. Otherwise, it's time for Jeff Tuel unless another addition to the active roster is made. If any of the latter scenarios unfold, things could get hairy for the Bills for however long Lewis and Manuel is out.

Early defensive woes
- With the way the Bills defense had been playing, the offensive output Cincinnati exhibited early on was out of character for Mike Pettine's unit. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who has shown his inconsistent nature through and through this season, was throwing the ball around at will and finding open receivers in the first half. The Bills allowed big chunk plays on the ground and through the air, leading to a 284-yard effort from the Bengals in just the first thirty minutes. Buffalo was getting little to no pressure, and Cincinnati established their playmakers in the early going. To their credit, they tightened up the proverbial screws in the second half and didn't allow the Bengals to run away with it. If it wasn't for such a poor effort in the first half however, the Bills could have pulled this one out.

Woods nowhere to be found
- Without Stevie Johnson in the lineup, Robert Woods was eliminated from the game plan by the Bengals. Drawing the assignment of Leon Hall for most of the game, Woods was only able to catch two passes for nine yards on six total targets. It's fair to point out all the pressure Johnson's presence takes off the rookie wide receiver, because it felt as though the Bills were without their top two receivers for much of the game. Woods is going to be a good player if he keeps on progressing the way he is, but having that second viable threat is vital moving forward. He can't do it alone.

Colin Brown experiment is over
- After an enduring six week run, it seems as though Colin Brown has seen his last starting action for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills started the game with their rotation, giving Doug Legursky the first two drives at left guard and Brown the second two. Those two drives with Brown was all head coach Doug Marrone and offensive line coach Pat Morris needed to see. Not counting the brief kneel down to put the game into overtime, Legursky was the left guard for the remaining seven drives for the Bills. Unless an injury happens to one of the interior positions, the Colin Brown era of starting at left guard has mercifully come to an end.

4th-and-goal… right or wrong call?
- The game and decision making of Doug Marrone will be analyzed over and over again, but it's one play in particular that will feature hindsight philosophies as the principal argument to defy what the head coach did. At the beginning of the second quarter, the Bills had the ball at the one-yard line three straight plays with a chance to punch it in for a touchdown. They ran it on second down for no yards and ran it on third down for zero yards once again. That brought on a fourth-down situation from the one-yard line and the Bills were down by three points at the moment. Marrone elected to go for it, resulting in a Thad Lewis sack. Statistically speaking, Marrone's decision to go for the touchdown is a slam dunk and should be duplicated in that exact situation again and again. Once again, we are aided by the Win Probability Calculator on AdvancedNFLStats.com. With the Bills failing to convert on fourth down, which left Cincinnati with a 1st-and-10 on their own two-yard line with 13:41 to go in the second quarter, it left the Bills with a win probability of 40-percent. Now let's venture into the land of hypotheticals: had the Bills elected to take the points and kick the field goal to tie up the game, their win probability would only have jumped up to 48-percent. When you analyze the potential gains of what a successful touchdown and extra point would have provided, Marrone's decision was a sound one. If the Bills take a four point lead at that point in the game, it swings the probability of a victory into their favor, almost doubling the potential loss of win probability with a failed fourth-down. Had the Bills scored the touchdown, their win probability would have jumped to 63-percent. Now, it's fair to argue the play calls the Bills chose to go with in those settings, but the original argument of the "take the points!" crowd is convenient because of the final score. However, the domino effect of scoring three points at that moment changes philosophies and approaches on offense through the rest of the game. In short, Marrone made the right call.

Goodwin > Graham
- Wide receiver T.J. Graham had what was one of the most productive games of his young career, that much is clear. What was also evident throughout the contest is that rookie Marquise Goodwin is the superior option for a few different reasons. Goodwin is faster, has more reliable hands and is a better blocker through and through. While Graham roped in the one deep throw from the arm of Thad Lewis in the first quarter, his concentration in catching the ball resulted in a later drop and a juggling reception that very well could have been an interception. Seeing as how it was his first game back, once Goodwin gets up to full speed the Bills need to contemplate having him take over the snaps from Graham and putting the second-year player in more of a situational role. The 40-yard touchdown reception was just the icing on the cake.

Secondary returns
- For the first time in 2013, the Buffalo Bills had both cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Jairus Byrd taking defensive snaps in a game. Both players were limited during their return, but played a substantial amount as they each came back from respective injuries. Gilmore sported a club on his hand that didn't expose any skin from his fingertips up to the middle of his forearm. He didn't try to jam at the line of scrimmage all that much because of it, and was just trying to get back in the swing of things. Byrd was in for all the team's three-safety sets, and got more base work when Da'Norris Searcy suffered an in-game injury (and ultimately returned to the game). As the week goes on, each player will be worked in more and more, but the first hurdle has been cleared. They're back on the field. Now, they have to get back to their normal level of play and finally cast aside those nagging injuries.

Punting goes from a weakness to a strength
- Brian Moorman probably never envisioned himself donning a Buffalo Bills jersey again, but the longtime franchise punter certainly didn't take the second chance for granted. He sprinted on to the field to a standing ovation from the fans that were already in the stadium, pumping his fist in the air mid-trot. On his first punt, Moorman couldn't have asked for anything better. He skied one down inside the 10-yard line, allowing special teams ace Marcus Easley to get down to the ball in time. Easley let the ball roll and it went out of bounds at the one-yard line. Moorman had been waiting over a month to have that first kick that counted, and delivered in a big way. The Bills said they wanted hang time and they got just that from the veteran. It was a dramatic upgrade from what they had in the previous two weeks with Shawn Powell.

Bills' MVP: QB Thad Lewis
- In a tough spot, Lewis came in against a solid defense and put the Bills in a position to challenge for a victory. Two passing touchdowns and another rushing score showed Lewis has some game. Now it's just a matter of his health.

Bills' LVP: DC Mike Pettine in the first half
- Normally a strength for the Bills, Mike Pettine's scheme in the early going left a lot to be desired and put a lot of yards and points on the board for Cincinnati. It ultimately cost the team the victory.

Up Next: Sunday, October 20 at Miami, 1 pm.

Final Thoughts
- In past years of Buffalo Bills football, it's fairly predictable what would have happened had the Bills went into a fourth quarter trailing 24-10. The negative plays likely would have snowballed and resulted in a loss that the players in the locker room would be ashamed of. Once again, this Bills team showed their resolve despite all the adversity and against a very good team in Cincinnati. None of the players in the locker room wants to boast about the concept of a moral victory, which is exactly what their 27-24 overtime loss is. However, the attitude at One Bills Drive has proven time and time again now that it's changed for the better. That's a big first step. Now it's about learning how to turn close losses into close wins. It's easier said than done, but it's what makes the great teams continue to shine every single year.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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