INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts and Bengals reside as neighbors in a geographic sense, but in NFL terms the teams are North versus South.
On Sunday, the AFC South Colts travel southeast to meet the AFC North Bengals. The teams do not meet on an annual basis and have met 25 total times since the first series meeting in 1970.
The Colts and Bengals did meet on consecutive seasons recently, 2005 and 2006, when both clubs were in the middle of playoff pushes. Indianapolis won both times, 45-37 on November 20, 2005 in Cincinnati and 34-16 on December 18, 2006 in the RCA Dome. The wins helped propel the Colts toward the post-season.
In 2005 with a combined record of 16-2, two of the most high-powered NFL offenses took the field at Paul Brown Stadium.
In what many expected to be an offensive shootout, the 9-0 Colts and 7-2 Bengals lived up to the billing, combining for 82 points and 51 first downs.
Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning and the Colts offense struck early and often against the Bengals by scoring touchdowns on their first five possessions.
The Bengals would match the Colts score-for-score for three possessions, but back-to-back Indianapolis touchdowns gave the visitors a 35-17 lead with 3:41 remaining in the second quarter.
However, the Bengals would score 10 points in the final 90 seconds of the half, trimming the Colts lead to 35-27 at intermission.
For the first 30 minutes the scoreboard registered numbers like a pinball machine. At one point, the teams scored on seven straight possessions. Manning finished the first half with 272 yards passing and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (111) and tight end Dallas Clark (109) both went past 100 yards receiving in the first half. Carson Palmer threw for 162 yards, while wide receiver Chad Johnson had 98 yards receiving, and he would total 189 for the game.
Opening up the second half, the Bengals marched right down the field to score and cut the deficit to one point.
Answering a Bengals score once again, the Colts ate 8:23 off the clock while going 77 yards on 15 plays. Running back Edgerrin James' two-yard touchdown pushed the lead to eight points. It marked the sixth straight game James had a rushing score.
The up-and-down pace finally slowed as the Colts defense stopped the Bengals on three consecutive possessions before a Shayne Graham field goal brought Cincinnati to within eight points late in the fourth quarter.
Wayne recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Colts would emerge with a 45-37 victory. The 45 points tied the regular-season high for Indianapolis, and it was the 10th straight game the Colts had topped an opponent by at least seven points.
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison caught five passes against the Bengals, and it put him past 900 career receptions in just 149 career games, the fastest pace in NFL history.
In a game that saw only three combined punts and more than 900 yards of total offense, it was the Colts going home with the victory, continuing their undefeated season at 10-0.
In the 2006 meeting, the Colts met the Bengals when a strong seasonal start had turned to adversity. Indianapolis exited the previous season's series match-up at 10-0, and the Colts would push the undefeated start to 13-0 on the way to a 14-2 season. Indianapolis opened the 2006 season with nine straight wins, but losses in three of four games put the Colts in a precarious spot as the Bengals invaded the RCA Dome.
Indianapolis had just dropped consecutive road division games at Tennessee (20-17) and Jacksonville (44-17), and the Colts had surrendered 375 rushing yards against the Jaguars. Anxiety bubbled among observers and a Monday Night Football audience would see if the 10-3 Colts could respond to the 8-5 Bengals.
Were the Colts ready for some football?
Just like they had done in 2005, the Colts got off to another hot start against the Bengals, scoring four touchdowns and a field goal on their first six possessions.
Manning was 18-for-20 for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, while hitting seven different receivers. After Bengals running back Rudi Johnson tied the score at 10 with 6:49 left in the first half, Manning and the Colts milked all but 13 of those seconds off the clock with a 13-play touchdown drive. Harrison capped off the drive by hauling in his second touchdown pass on the evening giving the Colts a seven-point lead at halftime. Harrison scored on three- and four-yard receptions.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney sacked and stripped Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer three times for a unit that forced five fumbles and leveled Palmer four times. The Colts defense also held the Bengals to two-for-11 on third-down conversions. The defense would keep the Bengals out of the end zone in the second half, allowing just two Graham field goals.
Manning added two more touchdowns in the second half with a one-yard pass to Harrison and an 18-yard toss to Wayne. The four touchdown passes for Manning marked the 15th time he had achieved that feat in his career, and it extended his NFL record to nine straight seasons with 25 touchdowns passes. He moved into eighth-place in NFL history with 270 scoring strikes. It marked the ninth time Harrison had three touchdown receptions in a game, and it placed him with Jerry Rice as the only receivers with 80 receptions in eight consecutive seasons.
Without three defensive starters in the secondary and missing Clark, Tony Dungy's squad prevailed and was playoff-bound. It would be the club's fifth consecutive playoff appearance under Dungy and counting his Tampa Bay tenure, it was his eighth straight post-season venture, tying him for the second-longest streak by an NFL head coach since 1970.
The win was a crucial response by the Colts in bouncing back from a difficult time in the season. The club would split its final two games before winning four times in the playoffs, the final victory being a 29-17 triumph over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI.