Coaching: B The biggest coaching decision of this game came long before it. Credit Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett for going against the grain and choosing Thad Lewis to start off the practice squad. It may not have resulted in a win, but Lewis did exactly what the Bills needed him to do in the game. On the flip-side, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine had 10 days to prepare for the Bengals offense and his unit allowed nearly 500 yards on Sunday. Not what the Bills were looking for when they made the move to start Lewis.
Run Offense: B-plus Another gutsy performance by C.J. Spiller, who was noticeably limping on the sidelines throughout the game. Spiller rushed ten times for 55 yards, showing elusiveness you wouldn't expect with his injury. The Bills also got a spark from Tashard Choice, who gained 24 yards on four carries. The problem area for this unit came on the Bengals' goal line stand early in the second quarter, when Fred Jackson was unable to punch it in from two yards out on three straight plays. Still, injuries considered, it was a solid outing by this group.
Pass Offense: B Lewis played about as well as the Bills could have hoped for in his debut in Buffalo. He got the deep game going more than the Bills have seen early this season, hitting T.J. Graham on a 47-yard strike and later Marquise Goodwin on a 40-yard touchdown. Scott Chandler, who's had a quiet start to this season, also got into the mix. Although Lewis lost a fumble while scrambling in the third quarter, he didn't throw any interceptions, another plus for this unit. There were some negative plays, though, including five sacks and several drops by receivers.
Run Defense: C The Bengals quietly put up 165 rushing yards against the Bills. Other than a 25-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the second quarter, neither Green-Ellis nor Giovani Bernard made a big impact in the game as runners. Bernard, who averaged 1.9 yards on 15 carries, did make a splash as a receiver, scoring on a 20-yard catch in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Marvin Jones -- a receiver -- tacked 34 rushing yards onto the Bengals' total on an end-around. There's plenty of room for improvement, but it was by no means a case of the Bengals gashing the Bills with their running game.
Pass Defense: C-minus This is what hurt the Bills, especially in the red zone. Mario Williams said the Bengals caught the Bills off-guard by opting for more of a "dink-and-dunk" passing game, rather than airing it out downfield. The Bills had trouble bringing down Bengals after some of those short passes, leading to long catch-and-runs. In the red zone, even with Stephon Gilmore playing for the first time this season, the Bills struggled to match up with Jones (6-foot-2) and A.J. Green (6-foot-4). Dalton passed 40 times but the Bills only came away with three sacks and five quarterback hits, signs that their pass rush wasn't up to snuff.
Special Teams: B Kicker Dan Carpenter continued his strong season, nailing a 51-yarder a week after converting from 52 yards. But the biggest story was the return of punter Brian Moorman, who twice pinned the Bengals inside their 5-yard line. It was Moorman's final punt, in overtime, that knocks down this grade. In what became a battle of field position, Moorman punted 51 yards back to the Bengals, but his coverage unit couldn't come through. Brandon Tate's 29-yard return on the play set up the game-winning field goal, a let-down for coach Danny Crossman's group.