Bengals' season was on the brink, but win vs. Bills opens up AFC North

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals' first two weeks of the season were about as disastrous as they could get.

But now the team that was close to spiraling out of control to start the year looks like it's just getting started.

The Bengals (2-3) have everything ahead of them as they head into their bye week after grinding out a 20-16 win against the Bills (3-2) at home. They'll take next week off before heading into their biggest test of the season against a vulnerable Steelers team that's coming off a loss to the Jaguars.

The Bengals have gotten a little better each week since falling into an 0-2 hole that caused them to fire offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. They're now 2-0 since the switch to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, and it hasn't hurt that linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned from his three-game suspension.

The Bengals were able to overcome several mistakes early in the game, including three turnovers that could have been the turning point. But A.J. Green was once again the key despite being responsible for some of those. Green was targeted 13 times and caught seven receptions for 189 yards, torching rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White.

Andy Dalton had another good game despite working on one good ankle. He limped out of the game briefly but returned with a heavily taped-up ankle, fighting through the issue to complete 61 percent of his passes for 328 yards and a touchdown.

What it means: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis never lost the locker room after the team looked inept in the first two weeks, and that's paying dividends now. The Bengals have used a philosophy of playing almost every active player, which means rookies like defensive end Carl Lawson have gotten to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. It hasn't been conventional, but it has worked after the slow start. The Bengals are clearly gaining momentum at the right time.

What I liked: The Bengals' defense played lights-out. The unit has been impressive for most of the season, but the final score on Sunday did not illustrate how good they actually played. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Lawson were putting an impressive amount of pressure on Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and even Michael Johnson had a sack while working inside as a defensive tackle in the Bengals' nickel package.

The Bengals held the Bills to field goals at key moments and got off the field on third down when needed. The lone touchdown they allowed was the result of an interception by Dalton that forced them to work on a short field.

What I didn’t like: The Bengals simply cannot stop getting in their own way. Two of Dalton's passes deflected off Green's hands for an interception; rookie Cethan Carter dropped a pass despite being wide-open. These are the kinds of mistakes that got the Bengals into an 0-2 hole to start the season. They aren't going to be able to get away with it down the road, either.

Fantasy fallout: Rookie running back Joe Mixon finally got into the end zone late in the game after sharing snaps with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Mixon's five-yard touchdown was the first Bengals rushing touchdown of the season and an indicator the coaches have a lot of trust in him considering that it was a close game. There will likely be more of those going forward as the Bengals continue to give Mixon a large share of the snaps.

Green had one of the stranger games of his career. He fumbled and was partially responsible for two interceptions but also was the biggest playmaker of the game, running for a 77-yard touchdown and a 47-yard reception that set up Mixon's touchdown.

Vontaze Burfict is back: It's not a secret that the Bengals defense functions better when Vontaze Burfict is on the field, but the Bengals' star linebacker was playing at a different level on Sunday. Burfict led the team with 10 tackles (three for loss) and a sack, but he also made the key plays when it counted on third down. Burfict was a large part of the reason the Bengals held Buffalo to field goals despite playing with a short field at times.

What’s next: The Bengals are off next week and will get to rest up before their showdown at Pittsburgh. They need it badly. The Bengals lost starting cornerbacks Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick to injuries on Sunday, along with wide receiver Tyler Boyd. That added to a list of injuries that already includes tight end Tyler Eifert, wide receiver John Ross and safety Derron Smith.