- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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But as Lewis steadied the Bills' offense, the defense struggled to contain Andy Dalton and the Bengals attack. Specifically, the Bengals were able to break four plays of 25 yards or more in the first half, mostly on catch-and-runs.
The size of A.J. Green and the shiftiness of Marvin Jones, two of the Bengals' top receivers, proved difficult for the Bills to match. Each player had a touchdown grab, while running back Giovani Bernard juked several Bills defenders en route to his own score.
The Bills would rather not look back towards last season's defensive unit, which was dismal. But despite gains made under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine this season, it's hard not to draw the comparison.
"It was very disappointing," safety Jairus Byrd said. "We knew, based on the situation that we were in, we were going to rely on our defense, and we didn't answer the call."
Byrd, who did not start but was rotated into the secondary, played in his first game this season. Same for cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who played with a large club on his left hand that limited his tackling ability.
"I give him a lot of credit," coach Doug Marrone said of Gilmore. "I think it's a very tough situation. Here is a guy that wants to come back, wants to get out there. Obviously he's not as comfortable as he wants to be."
Among healthier players, the Bills defense also struggled, especially early in the game. Defensive end Mario Williams' only contribution to the stat sheet came on a half-sack in the third quarter.
"They disguised it pretty well as [far as] quick passes, dinking and dunking," Williams said. "They did something a little different from what was expected on our defensive side."
The encouraging sign for the Bills' defense was that, after the Bengals did not punt through three quarters, the Bills forced Cincinnati to punt on their final five possessions prior to their game-winning field goal.
"We definitely put ourselves in a hole," Williams said. "But then even at the end of the game we still had a chance to win. So I wouldn't say it's discouraging, especially the way we came back."