CINCINNATI --Quarterback Curtis Painter had the Colts' offense humming in up-tempo fashion. The defense showed its snarl with a couple of important stops. An Indianapolis comeback seemed in the making.
But that's when a blocked field goal and two turnovers sabotaged the Colts on Sunday and left them holding a 27-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The outcome put the Colts at 0-6. But Coach Jim Caldwell voiced a firm answer for anyone suggesting his team's spirit is broken.
"You see how they play?" Caldwell said about the Colts. "All you do is see that every single week, they fight you until the end. There's no surrender, no quit in them, and they give themselves a chance to win the ball game. … We just can't close it out."
The Colts trailed 20-7 in the second half before they started to rally. Painter hit 4-of-6 passes for 54 yards and set his team up for a 46-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri early in the fourth quarter.
The Colts' defense held the Bengals to a three-and-out series, and Painter went back to work. He connected with Pierre Garcon for 12 yards and a resurgent Dallas Clark for 17. Later, from the 1-yard line, Painter faked a handoff to Delone Carter and passed to Clark in the back of the end zone. Indy's tight end made a soaring, one-handed grab.
With 9:33 left in the game, the Colts had pulled within a field goal of the home team at 20-17.
"We were a little porous there for a while defensively," Caldwell said, "and then our defense stood up and did a nice job of fighting back and got some three-and-outs. Our offense, once we got into the fourth quarter, started moving the ball and putting points on the board.
"They're doing the things we ask them to do. … There were a lot of things going really well during that stretch."
But then it started going sour offensively. After Indy's defense staged another three-and-out possession, the Colts' offense moved to Cincinnati's 34-yard line. Vinatieri set up for a 52-yard field goal to tie the game. Nate Clements blocked it.
"We just didn't have all phases in order on that one," Caldwell said.
Cincinnati's Mike Nugent misfired on a 43-yard field goal on the next possession, so the Colts still had a chance.
With 2 ½ minutes remaining, Painter passed to Garcon for a short gain. Brandon Johnson slammed into Garcon, stopping his momentum. Reggie Nelson wrestled the ball away. Carlos Dunlap recovered the fumble and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
"He was trying to get a couple of extra yards, and they were able to knock it out of his hand," Caldwell said about Garcon.
The Colts took the ensuing kickoff with a 27-17 deficit and more of a sense of desperation. Cincinnati's Leon Hall intercepted Painter on the first play of the drive. It was a tough end to a solid game for Painter, who completed 23-of-34 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown.
"I think you can see week by week, he's just getting better and better," said Caldwell, who also referred to Painter's strong second-half work in the no-huddle offense. "The up-tempo is always a good change of pace when things get a little stagnant."
Caldwell also appreciated the performance of Indy's defense, which contained the Bengals' offense after the 2:20 mark of the third quarter.
"They fought," Caldwell said. "They buckled up and made them work for every inch that they got. I think there were some good things there, particularly those last few stops. Those were huge. They stood up and did a nice job … to no avail."
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton hit 25-of-32 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown. His numbers on the Bengals' four offensive scoring drives were even more stunning: 17-of-20 for 199 yards. Cincinnati is 4-2 heading into its bye week.
"I've felt comfortable from Day One," said Dalton, a rookie from Texas Christian who was the 35th overall pick in the draft. "Like I was saying, having come from TCU with all the similarities, it has made the transition much easier for me."
For Caldwell, the plan is to keep pushing. The Colts will play at New Orleans on Sunday night.
"We are certainly not pleased where we are," Caldwell said. "That's an understatement. A lot of frustration and disappointment. That doesn't stop us from working, doesn't stop the guys from fighting.
"It's a never-surrender attitude in these guys, and that's what it is going to take to get us through."
FIRST QUARTER (9:19 remaining)
The Bengals got on the scoreboard first as Andy Dalton hit 4-of-6 passes for 44 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to A.J. Green. Mike Nugent added the extra point. The drive was set up when Colts tight end Dallas Clark fumbled at the Indy 44-yard line. Bengals 7, Colts 0
SECOND QUARTER (11:14 remaining)
The Colts tied the score on an eight-play, 66-yard march. Quarterback Curtis Painter completed 4-of-4 passes for 35 yards. Donald Brown took the handoff on a draw play and bounced outside for an 18-yard touchdown. Adam Vinatieri kicked the extra point. Bengals 7, Colts 7
SECOND QUARTER (no time remaining)
The Bengals nudged ahead as time ran out in the second quarter with Nugent hitting a 20-yard field goal. Dalton completed all seven of his passes for 74 yards on the 12-play drive. Bengals 10, Colts 7
THIRD QUARTER (10:27 remaining)
The Bengals capitalized on a 33-yard punt return by Brandon Tate to get this march started. Then Dalton hit Jerome Simpson with a 32-yard pass. Then, on third down from the Indy 10, Colts defensive back Chris Rucker was called for pass interference. Two plays later, Cedric Benson burst in from the 1-yard line for the touchdown. Nugent added the extra point. Bengals 17 Colts 7
THIRD QUARTER (2:20 remaining)
Dalton continued to engineer Cincinnati scores with hot passing and leadership. A 22-yard pass to Green and a 13-yarder to Brian Leonard were the big plays that set up another Nugent field goal, this one from 43 yards. Bengals 20, Colts 7
FOURTH QUARTER (14:56 remaining)
Painter hit 4-of-6 passes for 54 yards as the Colts went on a nine-play drive. It culminated in a 46-yard field goal by Vinatieri, who has hit nine of 11 this year. It was his fourth of the season from 40 yards or longer. Bengals 20, Colts 10
FOURTH QUARTER (9:33 remaining)
A leaping, one-handed catch by tight end Dallas Clark pulled the Colts to within three of the Bengals. At the end of a 10-play, 74-yard march, Painter faked a handoff to Delone Carter and passed to Clark in the back of the end zone from the 1-yard line. Vinatieri booted the extra point. Bengals 20 Colts 17
FOURTH QUARTER (2:22 remaining)
The Bengals put the game away when Pierre Garcon fumbled after a short reception and Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. Reggie Nelson forced the fumble. Nugent added the extra point. Bengals 27, Colts 17