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Luck holds up


        Colts running back Boom Herron had 85 yards receiving Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS - Maybe it wasn't surprising that the Bengals couldn't muster much of an offense without quarterback Andy Dalton's biggest weapons.

But no one thought Sunday's 26-10 AFC Wild Card loss to the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium would be the scene of another defensive performance that allowed close to 500 yards.

In the previous four Wild Card losses, a top ten Bengals defense had given up an average of 178 yards per game on the ground. On Sunday, one of the league's top 10 pass defenses in passer rating and completion percentage saw Colts quarterback Andrew Luck ring up a 104 passer rating while completing 70 percent of his passes.

The idea was that the Colts were so one-dimensional that the Bengals would be able to take away the pass with the strength of their defense. Helping in the matchup would be the Colts' 11th different starting offensive line featuring a little-used right tackle and right guard.

The Bengals offense would also have to play its part and possess the ball with the running game that had emerged over the last half of the season.

Didn't happen.

The Bengals, last in the league in sacks, got virtually no pressure. Luck got sacked once, got hit just eight times, and never threw one of those interceptions he so famously threw in his first three playoff games.

Plus, the Bengals offense went three-and-out on its first four possessions of the second half and kept it less than 26 minutes.

"Luck's a good quarterback moving around," said defensive lineman Robert Geathers. "They did some seven-man protection. They left guys in. They had seven against four. When they didn't do that, we didn't do a good enough job of getting pressure."

They blitzed 10 times, nearly a quarter of the time, but they never got there, according to Luck completed seven of 10 passes against the blitz for 128 yards, including the killing touchdown, a 36-yarder to rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief beating safety George Iloka and rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard across the middle to the right pylon that gave them a 20-10 lead midway through the third quarter. Luck avoided the blitz from safety Reggie Nelson and when he stepped up, Bengals leading sacker Carlos Dunlap had him around the ankles and Luck still threw a laser.

With the Bengals' undermanned offense unable to match Luck, 10 points might as well have been 100,

"When the play is extended, that's the scariest part," Iloka said. "Most coverages are designed one, two, three, and pull the ball out. When it gets to four, you're kind of on borrowed time. You're scrambling. It wasn't confusion. It's the same plays they ran all year. We just have to execute better in the secondary.

"My job as a defensive back is to cover the receivers no longer how long the play is," Iloka said. "I didn't do a good job and we didn't do a good job as a secondary. They executed their game plan better than we executed."

Isn't there always a former Bengals twist?

Colts running back Boom Herron, the Bengals' sixth-round draft pick in 2012, did what Bengals running back Giovani Bernard was supposed to do and caught 10 balls for 85 yards out of the backfield after catching 21 balls for 173 yards during the season. Luck found Herron most of the time on check-downs and the Bengals couldn't rally in time or make a sure tackle. Even before middle linebacker Rey Maualuga went out when he re-injured his hamstring in the second quarter. He had a ton of space.

"We had a lot of two or three-man routes, and the ball didn't go down the field," said head coach Marvin Lewis  "He had to check the ball down, and we have to do a better job tackling the check down because they were able to make some first downs that way early in the football game. They checked the ball down to the back; they picked us coming across the field a couple of times because there were two or three-man routes.

"They protected with seven a lot of the time in the football game. We had one free release in the first half when they were in the one spread (formation). They were protection conscious, and we have to do a good job tackling those check downs. He looked for the vertical ball and when he didn't have it, he checked it down. We have to do a better job of tackling it."

The Bengals had shored up a defense that earlier in the season became the first unit in franchise history to give up 500 yards in three games. But the Colts nearly did it again with Luck heaving for 376 of the 482 yards, the most passing against the Bengals this season next to Luck's 344 back in October.

"They had numbers on us. At times we were rushing four and they were blocking seven. Luck did an awesome job at getting the ball out of his hands and the rest was on the scoreboard," said defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry. "Extremely hard because again Andrew Luck is a prototypical quarterback. He's going to make plays and make smart plays. We got to him a couple of times, but it did not rattle him. He honored the hit and lines up and got back in the center so he is one of those guys that you have to constantly get to him every play, but we were not able to do that today and again the scoreboard reflected that."

The Colts focused on Dunlap and he got blanked with the one sack coming from a split between end Margus Hunt and tackle Geno Atkins on what looked to be a glitch on the snap. Luck also appeared to slow down the rush with his cadence, drawing the Bengals into the neutral zone a couple of times.

"We didn't do a good enough job of getting pressure," Geathers said. "Whenever they have a seven-man (protection) there is going to be somebody one-on-one you need to try and win and push him a little bit. Obviously we didn't get enough pressure. No matter (who is on the offensive line). That's our job. To hold up the end of our bargain."

Luck showed why he was the overall No. 1 pick in the 2012 and the only consolation for finishing in second place in the AFC North this season is they don't have to play him next year.

But it was little consolation for Iloka, who also gave up a 45-yard moon ball to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks that led to a field goal in the first half. He had emerged during the season as a vocal leader during the week in his third season and a third straight loss in the playoffs stung.

"We lost because we simply didn't execute like we needed to, like we should, like I know we can, and we lost in the first round again. I'll take the criticism and try to get better for next year," Iloka said. "It's very frustrating  for the fact after last year you do all those things to try to get back to this point and right last year's wrong. All year you battle just to get to this point. It ain't easy to get back to the playoffs.

"That's what makes it more frustrating. That's what makes it so painful. We're not promised next year to get back. We weren't promised this year to get back. We happened to get back and we couldn't get over the hump again. Pick up the ax and start whacking at it again.  It's going to be a tough road to get back to this point. It's going to be even tougher to get over the hill."

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