INDIANAPOLIS - T.J. Houshmandzadeh remembered the days the Bengals would go out and score 30 points "just for fun."
Now people make fun of them for getting beat by 30 after Sunday's 35-3 verdict. But safety Kyries Hebert and rookie left tackle Anthony Collins weren't laughing. Not after Hebert ran down Marvin Harrison from 60 yards out. Not after Collins talked back to Dwight Freeney after he frustrated the Colts Pro Bowl pass rusher in the first half.
"We'll never quit and I can speak for everybody in this room," Collins said. "We'll never quit."
It took until the second half for Freeney to get his 1.5 sacks, but Collins was defiant.
"I know I'm going to be a real great player in this league," he said. "I held my own."
With Chad Ocho Cinco getting benched at the start of another road game and Peyton Manning reviving the Colts' kaleidoscopic offense against the Bengals patchwork quilt secondary, it was your basic question-and-answer session.
What did you think Manning was going to do against a secondary in which two of the starters showed up a couple of weeks ago and another one's last start had come in last year's Grey Cup? No knock on the CFL, but there is the experience factor.
And with punter Kyle Larson's woes continuing even indoors, what would be expected when his first two punts of the game set the shaky field position at 17 and 26 yards against what is still the NFL's most efficient third-down offense despite all its inconsistency?
On Sunday Lewis claimed he wanted to "play the other guys," and Ocho Cinco said he wasn't ready yet because he was stretching and he did get in on that first series.
Hebert has been stretching for the last four years with two CFL teams in order to get an NFL start, which came for the first time Sunday with three safeties on injured reserve and one on the inactive list. Yes, he and cornerback Leon Hall whiffed on running back Dominic Rhodes' 17-yard touchdown run and Hebert should have taken a better angle on Harrison's 67-yard run-and-catch on Manning's short flip into the middle of nothing.
"They caught us in a two-deep coverage with a simple dart route," Hebert said. "We've got to get him on the ground earlier. Me, personally, I have to take a better angle at the snap. When he ran past the defense, I just didn't stop."
But there was just no question that Hebert was going to try and catch Harrison. The Bengals may have been 1-10-1 and were down 21-3 after being on the field for the first 8:45 of the second half. And the rout had officially started the series before with the Colts pass rushers declaring war with the 18-point lead and the Bengals losing 16 yards.
But there was still Hebert dragging down Harrison at the Bengals 4.
On a day Solomon Wilcots of CBS ripped Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry for loafing it on cornerback Kelvin Hayden's 85-yard interception touchdown return, take note.
Hebert came into the game as the Bengals' leading special teams tackler and special teams coach Darrin Simmons, pinched like everyone else, had to move around him a little bit and try to spare him the exhaustion.
"That's never been my thing," Hebert said of holding up on a play. "I didn't get here by not going all out. I didn't reach this point in my career by not finishing plays. That's not my M.O."
"I'm the safety coming down from up high. I have to break down and make the tackle," Hebert said. "There's no excuse for missed tackles. No matter whether it's in the open field, Cover 2, Cover 3. It doesn't matter. You have to get him on the ground."
Hebert has always insisted there is not a whole heck of a lot of difference between the CFL and the NFL. "It's the same game I grew up playing," says the Louisiana native. And while it might have seemed like Canada on Sunday with Manning the 11th and 12th players, Hebert says he knew what to expect.
"He's one of the best ever anywhere," Hebert said. "I just took what I've learned in my career and tried to apply it today. I've never been one to back down from a challenge. Coach (Mike) Zimmer had a good game plan. Good enough for us to win. But you have to tackle and you have to finish them off in the red area."
That was the plan: Dont get locked up in man-to-man. Manning never takes a sack, anyway, so load up in coverage. Protect the new secondary by preventing the deep ball and making Manning go the length of the field. He answered with that slog that opened the second half. A 15-play affair in which the longest play was 17 yards, and naturally it was a third-and-eight pass, this one to wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez working on Hebert and a cornerback in the zone.
"We did a good job protecting ourselves against the deep ball," Hebert said. "The capability he has of going over the top with his weapons, we tried to protect ourselves from that."
There were good plays and bad plays. But Hebert will always have running down a Hall of Famer from behind in his first NFL start. Hebert should have. Harrison is 36 years old, for goodness sake. But it's the fact he did it at 1-11-1.
Then again, it's like what safety Chris Crocker has been saying since he got picked up off the street in October:
"We're all playing for jobs."
Collins, the fourth-round pick from Kansas, is playing for a starting job next year. After his first three games have come against sack aces Freeney, Terrell Suggs and James Harrison, he feels pretty good about it and before Sunday the Bengals had liked the film they watched.
"I know I can go against the top three guys in this league and No. 3 is Freeney," Collins said. "And I played him very well until the first series of the second half. He's Freeney for a reason. He did his research at halftime and saw what I was doing and he came out with a different technique and worked it to the best of his ability."
Andrews didn't shut Mathis down, according to the stat sheet. Mathis was quite active, ending up with 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hits while also breaking up a third-down pass when he came around Andrews to knock the ball away from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also was busy in the run game with six tackles and two tackles for loss.
Still, when it was a game in the first half, Collins and Andrews kept the Colts duo in check when there was some doubt if the Bengals were going to pass or run. Collins wouldn't reveal his game plan against Freeney, but he admitted when he exchanged words with him early in the second half, it got Freeney going.
"He realized I was beating him in the first half and he came back with it; he said something to me," said Collins, who then said something back.
That was on the first series of the second half. Freeney, working one on one, bullrushed Collins back into Fitzpatrick and a snap later Collins was called for a hold.
"I play with confidence; it's do or die," Collins said. "If you let him know what you just did to him and you get beat the next play, it's do or die. He's going to let you know what he just did to you. So it's do or die in my game. You've just got to overcome it and play ball."
On a day there were more bad plays than good ones, Hebert and Collins played ball no matter the score.