CINCINNATI — Stevie Johnson returned to one of his favorite end zones Sunday, only to find the Twilight Zone.
Paul Brown Stadium is where Johnson caught eight balls for 137 yards, including a career-high three touchdown passes, to lead the Buffalo Bills to a 49-31 come-from-behind victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last November.
Once in the end zone, the former University of Kentucky standout raised his jersey to reveal a message on his undershirt — "Why so serious?" — as a dig at Cincinnati's self-proclaimed "Batman and Robin" receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.
Sunday, though, it was Johnson who was so serious.
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The Bengals rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat the Bills, 23-20. Mike Nugent kicked the winning 43-yard field goal as time expired.
A controversial "no-catch" on a ball thrown Johnson's way played a prominent role.
With the Bills leading 20-13 and facing third-and-one on their 47, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a short pass to Johnson. One official signaled a completion but was overruled. Buffalo lost a subsequent replay challenge and punted.
"It was clearly a catch. I don't know what the ref was looking at," Johnson said. "They went and reviewed it and still said it wasn't a catch.
"Caught the ball. Secured the ball. Knee was down. The guy (Cincinnati's Nate Clements) grabbed my arm. Knee was down. Ball's still in the same spot. Got up. Ball's still in the same spot. Hand the ball to the referee. How is that not a catch? ... We still had another opportunity out there, but that call definitely changed the game."
The Bengals went on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game with 4:09 left.
After a Buffalo three-and-out, Cincinnati put together the final, game-winning drive.
Johnson, who finished with four catches for 58 yards, pointed a finger at official Dino Paganelli.
"The back judge, who missed three or four holding calls and pass interference calls, he said it wasn't a catch," Johnson said. " ... I felt like it came down to calls, and the referees did their part."
The Bills had scored at least 34 points a game in winning their first three contests, with Johnson grabbing a TD pass in each.
Through four games, he leads the team in receptions (24) and receiving yards (314). Coming into Sunday's game, he ranked eighth or better in the NFL in catches for first downs, touchdown catches, receptions and yards after catch.
No wonder his No. 13 jersey is the second-hottest seller (behind first-round draft pick Marcel Dareus) in The Bills Store. Despite Sunday's loss, Johnson and the Bills are off to a fast start.
"We come out hot, sometimes we don't come out hot," Johnson said. "But as far as my team, we're doing what we're supposed to do. We're trying to execute, we're putting up points. Today, it just didn't go our way. I wouldn't say necessarily on the football field, but with the calls."
Johnson, who became the fourth player in UK history to gain more than 1,000 receiving yards (1,041 in 2007) and missed a school record for TD catches in a season by one (grabbing 13), is in his fourth season as a pro.
A seventh-round draft pick, he had one start and 12 catches in his first two seasons.
Last year, he broke through with 82 catches, good for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. He played in all 16 games, with 13 starts.
"It was opportunity," he said of his emergence. "Some guys left and it opened up an opportunity for me, and I got to see the field a little bit more. Or a lot more. Ryan Fitzpatrick came in and he connected with me. We both connected, and that pretty much brought the season together."
Johnson says he remains true to his school: "I bleed blue; we are UK."
Fans will recall a pair of game-winning catches he made for the Wildcats — a 57-yarder with 28 seconds left to beat Louisville, and a 7-yarder in triple-overtime against top-ranked LSU.
Of course, UK lost to top-ranked LSU this weekend.
"We (UK) took a tough one and they've just got to shake back, just like we do," Johnson said. "We've got to shake back and try to get a 'W' next week."