CINCINNATI — 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 Cincinnati Bengals behind one more time.
They couldn't keep him, and they weren't going to catch him.
The Buffalo linebacker made a storybook catch-and-run Sunday, returning an interception for a pivotal touchdown in the Bills' 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."
The Bills (8-6), who started 0-4, bolstered their playoff chances with their fifth consecutive victory, a solid all-around performance.
Jason Peters blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, 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 Bengals. "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 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.
Kitna, who fumbled twice and was sacked three times, was 16 for 32 for 151 yards and one touchdown.
Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe was 15 for 30 for 183 yards, including a five-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans.
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.