Defense finishes off Colts, 27-17

So much for stats.

With the Colts jamming eight men in the box and daring Andy Dalton to beat them, the Bengals rookie quarterback took Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium by the throat early and hit 21 of his first 26 passes for 223 yards to nine different receivers as the Bengals went on to a 27-17 victory over the Colts before 52,068.

The Bengals took a pass into next week's bye at 4-2, matching all of their victories of last season and snapping their seven-game losing streak against Indianapolis.

But they needed more fourth quarter magic, this time from the defense.

With 5:38 left and the Bengals leading 20-17, cornerback Nate Clements came off the left edge to get a piece of Adam Vinatieri's bid for a tying 52-yard field goal.

Then after the Bengals own field goal kicker, Mike Nugent, missed his first field goal of the season on his 14th try from 43 yards, the Colts and their red-hot quarterback Curtis Painter got the ball back with 2:36 left. But on the first play, linebacker Brandon Johnson stood up wide receiver Pierre Garcon and safety Reggie Nelson punched the ball out of his left arm. Left end Carlos Dunlap caught the bounce and ran it 35 yards for the touchdown with 2:22 left that accounted for the final.

Then on Painter's next snap, the Bengals secondary came up with its first pick of the season when cornerback Leon Hall came up with the interception at the Colts 19.

After blowing the last three games in the fourth quarter, the Colts scored 10 unanswered points and cut the lead to 20-17 with 9:33 left when tight end Dallas Clark made a leaping one-handed catch on the back line of the end zone on a throw from Painter. With that throw, Painter was 19-of-26 for 160 yards as he tortured the NFL's No. 1 defense on a series of quick slants and receiver screens. The touchdown was set up when Bengals third cornerback Morgan Trent was called for pass interference in the end zone when he didn't turn his head covering Garcon.

Working against a defense that had allowed back-to-back 190 rushing days and ranked next-to-last against the run in the NFL, the Bengals took a 17-7 lead on their first series of the second half when running back Cedric Benson followed left tackle Andrew Whitworth and fullback Chris Pressley for a four-yard touchdown run.

But it was set up by Brandon Tate's 33-yard punt return (his fifth of at least 15 yards) when he had been driven back with a 59-yard punt and fueled by Dalton's 32-yard over-the-shoulder laser to wide receiver Jerome Simpson racing past cornerback Jacob Lacey down the sideline. And it was kept alive on third-and five from the 10 when rookie cornerback Chris Rucker was called for pass interference on wide receiver A.J. Green.

Dalton finished 25-of-32 for 264 yards.

The Bengals couldn't hammer it into the end zone on the last two plays of the first half from the 6 and needed Nugent's 20-yard field goal as the half ended to take a 10-7 lead.

The Bengals could manage just 3.1 yards per rush in the half and on the last play from scrimmage the Colts swarmed the left side of the line to dump Benson for no gain at the 2-yard line and hold him to 28 yards on nine carries for the half and 57 on 16 for the game.

But with Dalton hitting 76 percent of his 19 passes in the half for 142 yards and a 115.4 passer rating, the Bengals were able to move it through the air, particularly when he was throwing to Simpson five times for 69 yards (six for 101 for the fourth 100-yard game of Simpson's career).

On the last snap before the two-minute warning on a third-and-seven, Colts left end Robert Mathis jumped offsides but Dalton and Simpson kept playing because the play wasn't blown dead. They got nine yards and the first down on an out pattern at the Colts 28, only to have Green called for a hold on the next snap when he cleared out an 11-yard run for Benson. But Dalton came back to hit Simpson over the middle and he nearly broke it for a touchdown when he wheeled through three defenders for a 28-yard play to the Colts 10.

The Bengals threw on all six snaps of their first scoring drive and took a 7-0 lead less than six minutes into the game when Dalton lofted a perfect jump-ball pass to Green posted on cornerback Jerraud Powers in the right corner of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass.

Dalton was 4-of-6 in the drive for all of 44 yards and hit four different receivers. He started with a play-action bootleg pass to wide open tight end Jermaine Gresham and he came back to pluck the underthrown ball off the turf for a 13-yard gain. Gresham then combined with Green to clear out a path for Caldwell on a 14-yard screen pass to set up the touchdown pass.

The drive came courtesy of Nelson's strip of Clark after he was stood up following a catch and outside linebacker Thomas Howard recovered at the Colts 44 to bust up Indianapolis's first series of the game.

But the NFL's No. 1 defense, playing without injured middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, started out having a miserable time trying to stop a bad running team playing with its backup running backs. The Colts, who came into the game averaging 3.8 yards per rush, attacked the Bengals third-best rush defense right up the gut. Rookie running back Delone Carter and third-year man Donald Brown, playing in place of the injured Joseph Addai, pounded the ball for better than five yards per carry in the half for 74 yards on 14 carries.

And when they weren't doing that, Painter was getting rid of the ball on short drops and quick routes. Garcon slanted in front of cornerback Nate Clements for plays of nine and 11 yards. Then Brown fried Clements in run support when he bounced an inside run to his right and Clements allowed Brown to get outside him for an 18-yard touchdown that tied the game at seven four minutes into the second quarter.

The defense responded on the next series when safety Chris Crocker's blitz made Painter get rid of it and he threw it low to wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Then on third down, after the Bengals were forced to call a timeout, they faked a blitz to make Painter get rid of it quickly and Nelson wrapped up Garcon for a two-yard loss.

Painter wasn't throwing it deep (his longest ball was that 11-yard slant), but the running game helped him complete nine of 11 passes for 61 yards.

The Bengals had trouble getting their bearings early. Their second drive got blown up on the third play when Caldwell's 14-yard catch got wiped out when he was called for knocking over cornerback Terrence Johnson in the slot. And the next drive stalled when Gresham and Simpson dropped passes.

And Tate, who had been replaced by Clements on the first Colts punt, failed to signal for a fair catch on the second punt and it rolled 10 yards backward.

But Tate came back early in the second half and ripped off a 32-yard return when he had been driven back with a 59-yard punt.

PREGAME NOTES: As expected, middle linebacker Dan Skuta got his second NFL start Sunday after Rey Maualuga sprained his ankle in practice last week.

Maualuga headed the inactive list with cornerback Kelly Jennings (hamstring) missing his second straight game. Also out were safety Robert Sands, linebacker Dontay Moch, guard Clint Boling, tight end Colin Cochart, and wide receiver Ryan Whalen.

It will be interesting to see if Maualuga's injury opens the door for backers other than Skuta. Brandon Johnson, a regular in the nickel package the past few seasons before the arrival of free agent Thomas Howard, has been basically playing only special teams.

The weather report of sunny and 70ish degrees looked to be holding up, but there could be wind gusts beyond the projected 13 miles per hour.

SLANTS AND SCREENS

» The Bengals, in their orange jerseys and white pants, introduced their offense. Their captains were Skuta, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, right tackle Andre Smith, wide receiver Andre Caldwell and defensive lineman Jon Fanene.

» The Colts won the toss, deferred, and kicked to the Bengals' Brandon Tate.

» Both Peyton Manning and Kerry Collins were inactive for the Colts, as well as running back Joseph Addai and left tackle Anthony Castonzo. That moved right guard Ryan Diem to right tackle and right tackle Jeff Linkenbach to left tackle.

» With the bye next week, let the speculation begin on the Bengals beginning the process of possibly extending the contracts of players either heading into free agency or the last year of their contracts.

In the wake of the extensions to cornerback Leon Hall, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and center Kyle Cook, Bengals.com reported on Sept 5 that the club looked to be about $17-18 million under the salary cap but were reserving money in three key areas that included possible extensions.

"Still uncertain of quarterback Carson Palmer's plans, they have said they're going to set aside his $11.5 million salary. It is believed they have also kept a $5.5 million chunk available, which is due right tackle Andre Smith if he plays 45 percent of the snaps and he looks headed that way."

The Bengals also keep a pad reserved to replace injured players, as well as extensions. Now six weeks into the season the number for Palmer is at about $7 million, which would give them some room to work.

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