That quarterback, the ’ Andy Dalton, shook off a wretched first half and led his first game-winning drive in the N.F.L. on Sunday.
Mike Nugent’s 43-yard field goal as time ran out gave Cincinnati a 23-20 victory over previously unbeaten Buffalo in front of the smallest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium’s history.
“I think we needed it a lot, especially at home,” Nugent said. “We’ve got to do a better job of putting fans in the stands.”
Many of the 41,142 fans had left when Dalton ran 3 yards for a tying touchdown with 4 minutes 9 seconds to go. He put Cincinnati (2-2) in position to pull it out by scrambling for a pivotal first down on the winning drive, helped by a replay overturn in his favor.
Dalton’s strong finish ended the Bengals’ streak of 10 straight losses against Buffalo (3-1) since the 1988 A.F.C. championship game. Sunday’s 14-point comeback was Cincinnati’s biggest since Carson Palmer’s team overcame a 17-point deficit to beat Baltimore, 27-26, in 2004.
“He’s a young quarterback,” said the rookie receiver A. J. Green, who had 4 catches for 118 yards. “It’s all about how you finish. The great ones finish, and he’s going to be a great one.”
The Bills arrived as the A.F.C.’s last perfect team, having rallied from deficits of 18 points against Oakland and 21 points against New England in the past two games. No team in league history had mounted such back-to-back comebacks.
This time, it came down to holding a lead. The Bills did not do it..
“I don’t know if it had anything to do with all the emotion from last week’s game,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “It had more to do with us flat-out not showing up in the second half.”
Buffalo took a 17-3 lead during Dalton’s poor first half. He was only 7 of 20 for 116 yards with 2 sacks and an interception that safety Bryan Scott returned 43 yards for a touchdown. His passer rating was a minuscule 15.8 in the opening half.
“I’ve been through a lot,” said Dalton, a second-round draft pick. “You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. If you’re too high, it can hurt you. If you’re too low, it can hurt you. I try to stay even-keel.”
Dalton got going with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals’ first touchdown in seven quarters. Dalton went 3 yards on a draw to tie the score, then scrambled to set up the winning kick the next time Cincinnati got the ball.
On third-and-3 from the Cincinnati 43, he scrambled away from the rush and dived out of bounds, stretching the ball as far ahead as he could.
It was marked a few inches short of the first down. After a review, the ball was moved about a foot forward, giving the Bengals a first down with 45 seconds left.
Brian Leonard caught a 15-yard pass and ran 14 yards to the Buffalo 25, setting up the winning kick. Nugent, coming off knee surgery last year, is perfect in 10 field-goal chances.
Dalton finished 18 of 36 for 298 yards. Cedric Benson ran 19 times for 104 yards, taking some of the pressure off the quarterback.
Coming off an emotional win over New England, the Bills were flat on offense and never got moving. They had scored at least 30 points in each of the first three games, but they managed only Scott’s touchdown return, Fred Jackson’s 2-yard run and two field goals.
“It’s the worst way to lose it,” Jackson said. “We had an opportunity to put away the game, but we didn’t make the plays when we had to.”
Last year, the Bills came to Paul Brown Stadium and pulled off a comeback that got them going, rallying behind Fitzpatrick for a 49-31 win after trailing by 31-14 at halftime.
Fitzpatrick could not make a big play in the second half on Sunday, finishing 20 of 34 for 199 yards.