Just like that, the 0-3 start is a distant memory after the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Buffalo Bills 20-16 Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The win moves the Bengals to 2-3 heading into their bye week, while the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers lost at home to Jacksonville to fall to 3-2.
Here are five things to know about the Bengals’ victory:
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw his first two interceptions since tossing four in the season opener against Baltimore, but he was able to laugh about it after the win.
Both picks hit usually sure-handed receiver A.J. Green in the hands.
“I just told him the good thing about it is, it doesn’t end up on his stats, it ends up on mine,” Dalton joked.
Dalton finished 22 of 36 for 328 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It was his first 300-yard game of the season and 22nd of his career, leaving him one shy of Boomer Esiason for the franchise record.
The performance came after Dalton suffered an ankle injury with 11:10 left in the second quarter. Buffalo defensive tackle Cedric Thornton came up the middle on a rush, and Dalton rolled his left ankle trying to escape the pressure.
He got the ankle taped at halftime and was noticeably limping the rest of the game, but he tried to downplay it after the game.
“I just wanted to keep trying to walk off it and hopefully it would feel better,” he said. “And it did. I got it taped up and was good to go.”
Joe Mixon gave the Bengals the lead for good when he scored his first career touchdown on a 5-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The play was designed to go up the middle, but as has been the case this season, there was no hole. So Mixon bounced to the right, got the edge and beat everyone to pylon.
»WATCH: Mixon’s first career touchdown
“(Tight end Cethan Carter) made a great block,” Mixon said. “I bounced out and saw the corner was out of place and tried to set the linebackers up.”
In addition to being the first of Mixon’s career, the rushing touchdown was the first of the season for the Bengals.
“We got our first rushing touchdown this week, which is big,” Dalton said. “I wish it wouldn’t have taken us five weeks. But we got one in there.”
The Bengals wasted no time extending their NFL-best streak of consecutive games with a sack to 34 when Michael Johnson got to Tyrod Taylor on Buffalo’s third snap of the game.
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The Bengals, who came into the game ranked third in the league with 12 sacks, went on to drop Taylor five more times. It was the second time in three weeks the Bengals recorded six sacks in a game after doing so at Green Bay.
According to Pro Football Reference, the last time the Bengals had two games with at least six sacks in the same season was 2001.
With 18 through five games, the Bengals are on pace for 58. The franchise record is 51, set in 2012.
Johnson led the way Sunday with two, while Vontaze Burfict, Carl Lawson, Geno Atkins and Jordan Willis each had one.
Willis’ was the first of his career, while Johnson’s marked the first time he’s had two sacks in a game since 2014.
After allowing the Bills offense to capitalize on Dalton’s first interception with a game-tying touchdown, the Bengals defense was at its best sudden-change situations in the third and fourth quarter.
They held the Bills to a three-and-out after Dalton’s second interception gave Buffalo the ball at the Cincinnati 36 in the third. They held Buffalo to a field goal after a Green fumble. And when Brandon Tate returned a punt 41 yards to the Bengals 12 with Cincinnati clinging to a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter, the defense held Buffalo to 2 yards and forced another field goal to maintain the lead.
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“One time (defensive coordinator) Paul Guenther played this song for us,” safety George Iloka said before singing “Closing Time” by Semisonic.
“He said, ‘I need closers,’” Iloka continue. “As a defense you want to be like, ‘We want to close out the game.’ That’s just the way league is. The games are always close, within a touchdown or a field goal, so you have to take it as a defense and want to close it out.”
It was the second week in a row and third time in five games this season the Bengals have held the opponent without a touchdown in the second half.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned from his three-game suspension last week at Cleveland, but you could argue Sunday marked his official return. Burfict was brilliant, finishing with 13 tackles, three of which were for loss, and a sack.
“From my vantage point it seems as though he played a good football game today,” head coach Marvin Lewis said.
One of Burfict’s tackle for loss came on the second play after the second Buffalo interception gave the Bills the ball at the Cincinnati 36. Another one, a 4-yard loss for LeSeaon McCoy, came on the second play after the Tate punt return gave Buffalo the ball at the Bengals 12. And his sack came on a third-down stop three plays after the Bengals had taken the lead on Mixon’s fourth-quarter touchdown.
Burfict was back to his old self in the locker room after the game as well. When told the Bengals were only a game out of first place after the Steelers lost, he said, “Pittsburgh lost? Hell yeah. That’s good, but at the end of the day we have to worry about what is going on here. Happy they lost, though.”
Cincinnati Bengals (x-x) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (x-x)
When: 1 p.m., Oct. 22
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
TV: Ch. 7, 12
Radio: 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM