INDIANAPOLIS - Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelem's forced fumble on Colts tight end Jack Doyle and his ensuing 83-yard return for a touchdown with 24 seconds left capped one of Cincinnati's greatest road comebacks in an enthralling and intriguing 34-23 Opening Day victory as they scored the last 24 points.
With the Colts' pass rush beating right tackle Bobby Hart on a spin move on third-and-eight, Dalton moved out of the pocket and hit wide-open Tyler Boyd for a 17-yard play. Then wide receiver A.J. Green made a great reach-and finger-tip catch over the middle and when he fumbled Boyd was there to cover it up at the Colts 21. It set up Randy Bullock's 39-yard field goal for a 27-23 lead with 3:57 left. That marked 17 straight points for the Bengals.
It was a gutty, scrambling fourth-quarter comeback capped on running back Joe Mixon's one-yard flying touchdown run over the middle of the line following rookie defensive tackle Sam Hubbard's first NFL scrimmage snap as the I blocking back to give the Bengals a 24-23 lead with 11:04 left in the game.
Mixon was immense in that drive as he was all day. He had 21 yards rushing and 15 receiving on that drive, giving him 95 and 54 on the day, respectively.
With offensive coordinator Bill Lazor at times pairing Mixon with running back Tra Carson as a fullback on the drive, his runs set up Green's vintage stunning Opening Day play. This time it was a diving 38-yard touchdown catch in the end zone on a post Green fleeced safety Malik Hooker going to the inside to cut the Colts' lead to 23-16 with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
When the Bengals did get to Luck, they were called for a penalty and on one, safety Shawn Williams was ejected in the first quarter. When it was 23-16 on third-and-seven late in the third quarter, Dunlap was called for his second roughing-the-passer call of the day even though it seemed he just bear-hugged him to the ground. The problem may have been he fell right on top of him.
But Dunlap responded a few snaps later with hip-throwing sack that set up Adam Vinatieri's short 55-yard field-goal try.
The opening moments of the second half crystalized the Bengals' problems early on Sunday. The Bengals offensive line suffered a false start by left guard Clint Boling and right tackle Bobby Hart allowed old friend Margus Hunt to knife inside for a drive-killing sack and the Colts' first of the game.
Luck then threw on every play in a 60-yard drive while completing seven of nine passes, mainly short quick crosses and screens over the middle. On back-to-back third-and-threes, Luck hit one tight end, Eric Ebron, to get the first one, and then another, Jack Doyle, to get the second. When Luck hit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on a slant inside cornerback William Jackson for a five-yard touchdown pass that made it 23-16 with 8:13 left in the third quarter.
Dalton and Green, the Bengals' two most important players on offense and the unit's co-captains, both suffered turnovers Sunday in the first quarter of the season to set up the Colts' first 10 points in a first half Indy took a 16-10 half-time lead
Green and Dalton rallied in the final two minutes of the half, hooking up for a 36-yard pass interference penalty that set up Dalton's three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Ross to cut the lead to 13-10 with 1:44 left in the half. Ross returned to the Lucas Oil Stadium floor where two years ago he set the NFL scouting combine's 40-yard dash record to score his first pro TD on a drive that featured running back Joe Mixon's 27-yard run around the left edge on third-and-one.
But it was Luck, testing his battered body for the first time since Jan. 1 2017 in the 2016 finale, who worked the two-minute magic to get the ageless Vinatieri's 51-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half. Another Bengals' main man, left end Carlos Dunlap, was whistled for a roughing-the-passer penalty, and when middle linebacker Preston Brown had to leave with an ankle injury (his return was probable), Luck muscled in an eight-yard pass to tight end Jack Doyle at the spot Brown vacated in the middle of the field and was manned by back-up middle backer Hardy Nickerson.
The game unfolded against the backdrop of two re-building offensive lines with the Bengals starting four new players and the Colts scrambling to replace one of their best players in injured left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
Indy replaced him with their most versatile lineman, third-year man Joe Haeg, coming in with 20 starts at right tackle, seven at right guard and two at left guard. He worked at left tackle in the preseason, but made his first regular-season start there Sunday with J'Marcus Webb moving to right tackle. Webb, in his eighth season, didn't play last year and has 44 NFL starts in a variety of spots.
But it all didn't matter in the first half the Colts O-line outplayed both Bengals lines. Luck was 20 of 25 for 170 yards and didn't sacked by the Bengals' ballyhooed pass rush while the Colts gave Dalton some heat. They didn't sack him but forced him out of the pocket a few times, once on a failed third down, and he finished the half 10 of 14 for 108 yards.
Rookie Colts head coach Frank Reich spread the field and got the ball quickly out of Luck's hand, picking on the Bengals linebackers with balls to the backs and tight ends. Tight end Eric Ebron had three catches for 39 yards, one a 26-yard touchdown racing past linebacker Jordan Evans.
It was a break-neck and tough and rather stunning first 15 minutes of the season for the Bengals. There were the turnovers, the penalties and safety Shawn Williams' ejection for a hit on Luck.
The first Dalton pass was the ultimate disaster. After Mixon took the first snap for his longest run of the summer on a seven-yard ramble through the right interior, Dalton went for him on a play-action short flip in the flat on second down. But rookie center Billy Price got run over by tackle Al Woods to put pressure on Dalton hurrying the ball out and overthrowing Mixon on a dead quail. It went right to cornerback Kenny Moore II and it looked like a pick-six until Dalton saved the day with a tackle at the Bengals 7.
The defense cashed it. After Colts rookie guard Quenton Nelson held Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins on the second snap of their marquee matchup, Dunlap smashed into Luck as Preston Brown undercut the route for an interception on his second snap as a Bengal for the their first interception of Luck ever at the Colts 7.
On his first catch in almost a year tight end Tyler Eifert was wide open on the right sideline for 29 yards and the Bengals got their first points of the season on Randy Bullock's 42-yard field goal with 8:20 left in the first quarter Mixon was the man with a run not fewer than five yards in the drive and Dalton went back to Mixon on the same screen that got picked off. This time he followed the left side of his line for 21 yards to put Cincy on the Colts 32.
But the drive stalled when running back Giovani Bernard got thrown for a two-yard loss on a sweep right and Dalton had his third-down pass batted right back at him with pressure up the middle. The usually stoic Dalton went ballistic on two officials, claiming the Colts swiped his facemask on the play.
But they had no problem making the call the next time a quarterback got hit in the head. Unfortunately for the Bengals it was on the next drive as Luck raced out of the pocket for a first down on a play that ended with Shawn Williams trying to twist his head away as he finished off the play. But they not only called a penalty on Williams, they ejected him and the Colts had a first down at the Bengals 9 with special teams captain Clayton Fejedelem checking in for Williams.
For the second time in the first quarter the Bengals defense denied the Colts in tight. Fejedelem defended Ebron in the back of the end zone on first down and after a run nudged it to the goal line, the Bengals staged a Double A Gap blitz and Evans dropped running back Jordan Wilkins for a two-yard loss to set up Vinatieri's 21-yard field goal for a 3-3 tie with 1:23 left in the exhausting first quarter.
But it wasn't over. On the next-last-play of the quarter, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green coughed up the ball at the Colts 42. He caught a quick one and as he took up it the left side, Moore stripped him from behind.
Luck made it sting. He did what Dalton couldn't do and overcame a holding call. (The Bengals had one on right tackle Bobby Hart.) The Colts spread it out for a 12-yard underneath pass to Ebron before he burned Evans on the TD Luck lofted down the right side with 12:02 left in the half for a 10-3 lead.
The Bengals got the running game going, but they didn't have it enough with Mixon getting 55 yards on just six carries.
Images from the 2018 regular season opener at Indianapolis.