CINCINNATI (AP)—The pass spiraled right to his eager hands. The end zone was 62 yards away. All Takeo Spikes had to do was make the catch and leave the Bengals behind one more time.
They couldn’t keep him, and they weren’t going to catch him.
The Buffalo Bills linebacker made a storybook catch-and-run on Sunday, returning an interception for a pivotal touchdown in a 33-17 victory over the team he left for better days—days just like this one.
“I’ve never been in a position this late in December to have something to play for other than pride,” said Spikes, who spent his first five seasons in Cincinnati. “That’s very big to me. I care about coming back home to where it first started, but at the same time, the playoffs outweigh this far more than anything else.”
Buffalo (8-6) bolstered its playoff chances with its fifth straight win, a solid all-around performance. Jason Peters blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for a score, and Spikes and the defense ruined Jon Kitna’s latest comeback.
Kitna, filling in for the injured Carson Palmer, threw two interceptions and fumbled a snap, dooming the Bengals (6-8) to their 14th consecutive season without a winning record—one of the longest streaks of futility in NFL history.
“It means we’re not as far along as I hoped we would be,” said coach Marvin Lewis, in his second year trying to rebuild the forlorn franchise. “We got off to a good start and then let them back in, and then we imploded from there.”
Spikes was the first player to abandon ship after Lewis arrived, looking to get re-energized and make the playoffs somewhere else. He made the play that kept the Bills headed that way.
Under heavy pressure early in the second quarter, Kitna threw a pass directly to Spikes, who ran untouched to the end zone, fired the ball off the facing of the stands and screamed to the fans who had cheered him during those inglorious years in Cincinnati.
Spikes was the last player off the field, waving his right fist and slapping hands with several dozen Bills fans in the corner of the same end zone where he returned the interception.
“He’s in a zone right now,” coach Mike Mularkey said. “I actually wanted to stay out of his way on the sideline. To come up with the plays he did today doesn’t surprise me.”
Since an 0-4 start, Buffalo has won eight of 10 to climb into contention. The Bills have scored at least 33 points while winning each of their last five games, their best such streak since 1998.
And a defense that held Cleveland to only 26 yards a week earlier had its way with the Bengals’ backup quarterback.
Kitna was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year last season, but became Palmer’s backup last March. Kitna hadn’t taken a snap until last week, when Palmer sprained his left knee in New England.
Kitna expected to be back in form after a week of practice, but had all sorts of problems. He fumbled twice, was intercepted twice, was sacked three times and went 16-of-32 for 151 yards with a late touchdown against soft coverage.
“It was kind of a crazy game,” Kitna said. “Everything seemed to go their way.”
The Bills offense didn’t have to do much. Drew Bledsoe was 15-of-30 for 183 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans. Willis McGahee ran for only 25 yards on 11 carries, and left for the last few minutes of the first half after landing awkwardly on a catch and twisting his rebuilt left knee. He returned for the start of the second half, but sat out the fourth quarter as a precaution with the game in hand.
Only a few thousand fans stuck around on a windy, frigid afternoon to watch another Bengals season end badly.
Since the All-America Football Conference merged with the NFL for the 1950 season, only one team has had a longer streak of futility than the Bengals. New Orleans failed to post a winning record in its first 20 seasons. Cincinnati and Tampa Bay are tied for the second-longest streak at 14 years.
“I feel for a lot of the guys who were there with me,” Spikes said. “It’s tough, man. It’s tough.”
Spikes has scored four career touchdowns. He also returned an interception 11 yards for a score against Miami on Oct. 17. … Spikes also recovered a fumble. … Bledsoe moved ahead of Joe Montana for seventh place on the career completion list with 3,412. … RB Rudi Johnson had his fifth 100-yard game, tying the Bengals’ record for a season. … RB Chris Perry, the Bengals’ first-round pick, was inactive because he aggravated strained abdominal muscles during the week.