RESILIENT VICTORY

The Colts (6-3) on Sunday forced five turnovers in a 23-17 victory over Cincinnati, a victory that moved them into sole possession of first place in the AFC South.

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Colts Defense Forces Five Turnovers in 23-17 Victory over Cincinnati
INDIANAPOLIS – With a chance to take sole possession of first place in their division, the Colts needed a few things.

• Resiliency.

• A few big plays from the defense.

• A victory.

As has been the case in recent weeks, they got the first and they actually got more than a few big plays from the defense on Sunday afternoon. That gave them an imant, mid-season 23-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in front of 67,404 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It also gave them the lead – all alone – in the AFC South.

"The defense did a tremendous job," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said after the Colts took a 17-0 lead before holding on for their sixth victory in the last eight games.

"They played hard and played well."

The defense not only registered three sacks, the Colts also forced five turnovers that led directly to 17 of their 23 points.

"They came up big all day," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said of the defense after he completed 20 of 36 passes for 185 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.

"Three sacks and five turnovers, that's a tremendous day," Caldwell said, also noting that the Colts limited Cincinnati's offense to 30 yards on 19 rushing attempts.

The Bengals rushed for 72 yards on 20 carries, with 42 of the yards coming on a fake punt run in the first half by Brian Leonard. Bengals running back Cedric Benson entered the game with 599 yards and three touchdowns on 161 carries through eight games.

"They stopped the run against a real fine back and a fine young team that runs the ball extremely well," Caldwell said of the defense. "I thought our guys really, really fought hard."

The Colts, after leading by 10 points at halftime, limited the Bengals to one second-half touchdown – a 19-yard pass from quarterback Carson Palmer to tight end Jermaine Gresham with 2:35 remaining that cut Indianapolis' lead to 23-17.

The Bengals recovered an onside kick at the Colts 40, but Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney forced a fumble by Gresham to stop that possession at the Colts 34.

Cincinnati had one final chance after forcing a Colts punt, but Freeney and defensive end Robert Mathis sacked Palmer on back-to-back plays before an incomplete pass on the game's final play.

"I don't know what kind of defensive statement we had today, but we do know internally we can make plays and we will make plays," Freeney said. "We're all in it together, and we can perform at a high level even with different faces in some places."

The victory moved the Colts (6-3) into sole possession of first place in the AFC South after nine games, with Tennessee (5-4) losing to the Miami Dolphins, 29-17, at Miami Sunday. The Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4) moved into a second-place tie with the Titans with a 31-24 victory over Houston (4-5) in Jacksonville Sunday.

The Colts, who visit New England Sunday, once again played without a slew of injured players, including middle linebacker Gary Brackett, who missed with a toe injury after not practicing all week.

Other Colts inactives:

Safety Bob Sanders, linebacker Clint Session, wide receiver Blair White, running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, cornerback Justin Tryon and wide receiver Austin Collie.

Rookie Brandon James, playing in place of White, caught four passes for 36 yard after being signed from the practice squad this week, and rookie Javarris James rushed for a third touchdown in the last two games.

Rookie Pat Angerer moved from the strong side to middle linebacker to replace Brackett, and with Session out, Tyjuan Hagler and Philip Wheeler started at linebacker.

"It's just like we've been saying, 'Next Man Up,' Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. "We don't have time to worry about who is not out there, who is not available. There is always somebody behind somebody. We're all on scholarship. There are no walk-ons right now.

"Whoever is out there is going to have to perform like they've been a starter from Day One. We have to find a way to win."

The Colts took a 10-point halftime lead with an inspired first half, and while the teams weren't drastically different statistically, the Colts took advantage of two Bengals turnovers to take an early 17-point lead.

After the teams exchanged punts, the Colts drove 82 yards on 14 plays midway through the first quarter with kicker Adam Vinatieri's 28-yard field goal giving Indianapolis a 3-0 lead. Manning completed six of seven passes for 72 yards on the drive.

Two plays later, the Colts took a double-digit lead on the Bengals' first turnover.

Two plays after Vinatieri's field goal, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw to the right side of the field. Hayden intercepted and returned it 31 yards down the sideline for a 10-0 Indianapolis lead.

It was Hayden's second interception return for a touchdown in three weeks. His first-half return against Houston on November 1 helped the Colts to an AFC South victory in that game.

On the ensuing series, Cincinnati committed its second turnover in as many plays when Colts rookie linebacker Kavell Conner forced a fumble by Benson. Colts defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, playing after returning from knee surgery, recovered at the Bengals 25.

The Colts used seven plays to drive 25 yards, with James' three-yard touchdown run pushing the Colts' lead to 17-0.

A 27-yard field goal by Mike Nugent made it 17-3 and the Bengals trimmed the lead to 17-10 when quarterback Carson Palmer passed five yards to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco with 1:06 remaining in the second quarter.

The Colts took possession at their 17 after the kickoff, and after Manning drove the offense 54 yards in 10 plays, kicker Adam Vinatieri's 47-yard field goal on the final play of the first half made it 20-10, Colts.

The Colts' defense controlled much of the second half, forced three more turnovers in the second half. Two came from players who weren't on the roster at season's beginning, with Aaron Francisco intercepting to stop a fourth-quarter drive and Hagler returning an interception 35 yards to set up Indianapolis' final field goal.

"Certainly, that's what our guys get paid to do," Caldwell said. "They get paid to play the game and play it well. But also the coaches, just in terms of getting guys ready – sometimes it's under somewhat adverse conditions. They have to learn a lot in a short period of time.

"Sometimes, we have to curtail what we do a little bit based on who's playing. We have to consider all of those things, but also there is a great transfer of information from our older guys, the guys who come in, which I think is key and critical.

"All of those factors involved create a pretty interesting mix in terms of preparation every week."

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