CINCINNATI (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals showed a national TV audience on Sunday night they are still serious AFC playoff contenders.
The Bengals were all but counted out after starting the season with two losses and falling to 1-3 on Oct. 1. But four straight wins have pulled them back up and into the conversation.
The latest was a 24-18 victory over the Buffalo Bills in a rematch of a divisional playoff game from last season.
“We went out and proved to the world we’re back and we’re here,” said Cincinnati receiver Tee Higgins, who had eight catches for a season-high 110 yards.
Joe Burrow threw for a season-high 348 yards and two touchdowns, and Cincinnati’s defense forced two turnovers and held off the Bills.
“We’re coming along,” Burrow said. “We’ve played well the last couple of weeks and we have to keep it going.”
Cincinnati (5-3) is locked in a tie with Cleveland and Pittsburgh, all of them chasing the division-leading Ravens (7-2) in the AFC North. The Bengals still have to play the Steelers twice and have rematches with the Browns and Ravens on the schedule.
Burrow, who was still struggling with a calf injury early in the season, was 31 for 44 while completing passes to eight receivers, with tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Drew Sample making the touchdown grabs.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati kept Josh Allen and the Bills (5-4) playing from behind throughout.
Cam Taylor-Britt intercepted Allen to shut down a drive in the second quarter. Nick Scott upended Buffalo tight end Dalton Kincaid and recovered the fumble on Cincinnati’s 13-yard line in the third quarter.
The subsequent Bengals drive ate up 5:20 and a 20-yard field goal by Evan McPherson extended Cincinnati’s lead to 24-10.
Allen threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs and the two connected on a 2-point conversion pass to cut the lead to 24-18 with 3 1/2 minutes left, but the Bengals got two first downs and ran out the clock to seal it.
“Too inconsistent overall,” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said. “I thought we got off to a really good start in our rhythm. After that it was tough sledding.”
Allen had a respectable night, going 26 for 38 and 258 yards, but he also threw an interception for the fifth straight game. Diggs had six catches for 86 yards.
Burrow was 6 for 6 for 65 yards on a methodical opening drive that he finished off with a 7-yard pass to Smith, who got his first touchdown catch of the season.
The Bills answered with a quick scoring drive, highlighted by a 34-yard catch-and-run by Diggs and capped by Allen’s 2-yard TD run.
Aided by a roughing the passer call on the Bills’ Tim Settle, Burrow put together another extended drive. Joe Mixon barreled in from Buffalo’s 2-yard line to finish it.
Burrow tossed a bubble screen to Sample, who ran for a 22-yard touchdown and gave the Bengals a 21-7 lead at the half.
“Getting up by two scores was big,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “I also was happy with the offense on the final drive. We take pride in finishing with the ball.”
In his postgame news conference, Burrow did his best to temper expectations.
“We were 1-0 this week. We have to be 1-0 next week, too,” he said. “This is only game (No.) 8. We’ve got nine games left.”
The last time the Bills played at Paycor Stadium on Jan. 2, safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated on the field. The game was postponed and eventually canceled.
Hamlin recovered and was back with the team in Cincinnati, although he was inactive for the game.
He’s honoring the 10 first-responders, nurses and doctors who helped save his life by establishing a scholarship program for Cincinnati youths.
Hamlin’s charitable foundation charitable will be awarding $1,000 scholarships to 10 individuals from the area’s underserved communities for each of the next three years.
Bills LB Terrel Bernard was ruled out with a concussion.
Bills: Host the Denver Broncos (3-5) on Monday, Nov. 13.
Bengals: Host the Houston Texans (4-4) next Sunday.
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