A Capsule Look at Sunday's Colts-Bengals Game
COLTS (8-4) vs. BENGALS (1-10-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Lucas Oil Stadium
Colts – Tony Dungy, seventh season as Colts Head Coach (81-27, 88-32 including playoffs) and 12th season as NFL Head Coach (135-69, 144-78 including playoffs).
Bengals – Marvin Lewis, sixth season as Bengals Head Coach and NFL Head Coach (43-46-1, 43-47-1 including postseason).
Colts – 8-4, 2nd in AFC South.
Bengals – 1-10-1, 4th in AFC North.
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS
Colts – 2007.
Bengals – 2005.
2008 NFL RANKINGS
Offense – Overall, T-21st (318.9 yards per game); Rushing, 29th (79.8 ypg); Passing, 7th (239.1 ypg); Defense – Overall, T-15th (322.2 yards per game); Rushing, 25th (133.8 ypg); Passing, 6th (188.3 ypg).
Offense – Overall, 32nd (232.4 yards per game); Rushing, 31st (78.1 ypg); Passing, 30th (154.3 ypg); Defense – Overall, 24th (349.3 yards per game); Rushing, 24th (131.6 ypg); Passing, 20th (217.8 ypg).
Colts – Peyton Manning (281-445 completions, 2,948 yards, 63.1 pct., 19 TD, 12 INT, 85.3 passer rating).
Bengals – Ryan Fitzpatrick (164-278 completions, 1,342 yards, 59.0 pct., 6 TD, 7 INT, 68.1 passer rating); Carson Palmer (75-129 completions, 731 yards, 58.1 pct., 3 TD, 4 INT, 69.0 passer rating).
Colts – Joseph Addai (144 carries, 514 yards, 5 TD); Dominic Rhodes (108 carries, 394 yards, 3 TD).
Bengals – Cedric Benson (114 carries, 335 yards, 1 TD); Chris Perry (103 carries, 269 yards, 2 TD); Ryan Fitzpatrick (34 carries, 219 yards, 1 TD).
Colts – Reggie Wayne (62 receptions, 870 yards, 5 TD); Anthony Gonzalez (48 receptions, 581 yards, 3 TD); Marvin Harrison (48 receptions, 505 yards, 4 TD); Dallas Clark (47 receptions, 513 yards, 3 TD);
Bengals – T.J. Houshmandzadeh (81 receptions, 810 yards, 4 TD); Chad Ocho Cinco (45 receptions, 428 yards, 4 TD).
Colts – Robert Mathis (9), Dwight Freeney (8).
Bengals – Robert Geathers (2.5).
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY?
Colts – The Colts, after back-to-back double-digit road losses, have won five consecutive games – including two against AFC division leaders – to solidify their position in the AFC playoff chase. The Colts lost at Green Bay (34-14) and Tennessee (31-21) before beating New England (18-15) at home, then rallying from a 10-point deficit to beat Pittsburgh (24-20) two weeks ago. They beat Houston, 33-27, at home and San Diego, 23-20, on the road before a 10-6 road victory at Cleveland this past week.
Bengals – After losses in their first eight games, the Bengals have gone 1-2-1 the past four weeks, beating Jacksonville (23-21) and tying Philadelphia (13-13) at home before a pair of one-sided losses. Cincinnati lost at Pittsburgh, 27-10, two weeks ago before losing to Baltimore at home, 34-3, Sunday.
QUOTES TO NOTE
"We're always trying to improve. That's what we talk about is getting better every single week. That will be the goal again this week starting a new quarter (of the season). As (Colts Head) Coach (Tony) Dungy always says, it's the first game of the fourth quarter and you hope to be playing some of your best football around this time. Hopefully we can start the fourth quarter off on the right foot."
--- Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning
"The thing is you're playing to win football games and the outcome, and regardless of what happens to somebody else's season, that's all we worry about. Your approach to the game is to win every week. I can't sit there and say, 'We're just playing to be the spoiler.' That doesn't make much sense when you're trying to go win the football game and that's how you prepare. Our guys prepare every week that way. We have to do better things and make more plays in order for us to win the football game."
--- Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis
The Bengals, who last visited Indianapolis in 2006 when they were contending in December for a playoff position, were eliminated from playoff contention this season before any other AFC teams, and this past Sunday, they secured their first double-digit loss season since 2002.
One reason for the Bengals' struggles this season: Injuries.
The Bengals have 15 players on injured reserve this season, a total that does not include quarterback Carson Palmer, a Pro Bowl selection in 2005 and 2006 who has played in just four games this season because of an injury to the elbow in his right (passing) arm.
But for all of the injuries and all of the struggles this season, Colts President Bill Polian said the Bengals are not only talented, they're well-coached and capable of playing with any team in the NFL.
"It's puzzling to me why they have this kind of record, but any time you have this kind of talent, you have to be very, very careful," Polian said. "These guys can ignite and they can put 35 on you in a heartbeat with the kind of talent that they have.
"This is a tough, tough ballgame – not unlike what we faced in Cleveland."
With Palmer injured much of the season, Ryan Fitzpatrick – a fourth-year veteran from Harvard – has started eight games, throwing six touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and wide receivers Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh each made the Pro Bowl last season. Houshmandzadeh is on pace to catch more than 100 passes this season.
Cedric Benson, a former first-round selection by the Chicago Bears, has provided the Bengals solid depth at running back behind starter Chris Perry.
"This is talent that can go off like a skyrocket at a moment's notice," Polian said. "You don't want to go out there and have to guard Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh. That's a formidable duo in and of itself, and Benson can run the ball far more effectively than anybody they've had in the last three or four years.
"This is a tough ballclub and not a walkover by any means. I would expect a very tough ballgame from them."
The Bengals lost their first eight games, but during that span, they lost an overtime game to the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, and in early November, they beat Jacksonville at home a week before playing Philadelphia to a 13-13 tie in Cincinnati.
"They've struggled," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Monday, "but I just finished watching them against Jacksonville and Jacksonville really couldn't get anything going offensively against them. They've played some games that way, and then they've played some other games, like (Sunday vs. Baltimore) that didn't look good. Just like Cleveland, we have to plan for the best Cincinnati team, the explosive guys playing. . . .
"We'll have to be ready for them. Not playing with anything at stake, they can throw a lot at us, and we'll have to be ready for that."
Three key head-to-heads . . .
• Colts cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden versus Bengals wide receivers Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals have been severely hurt by injuries defensively and throughout the roster, but one area at which they are healthy is wide receiver. Houshmandzadeh and Ocho Cinco each made the Pro Bowl last season, with Ocho Cinco making his fifth consecutive appearance. Jennings began the season at nickelback, but has started the last eight games because of injuries first to Hayden and then to Marlin Jackson (injured reserve, knee) and Hayden has started the last two games after missing six games with knee and hamstring injuries.
• Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis versus Bengals offensive tackles Levi Jones/Anthony Collins and Stacey Andrews. The Colts have 19 sacks this season, and Freeney and Mathis – one of the NFL's best pass-rushing tandems for the last half-decade – have 17 of them. Mathis, the team's sacks leader each of the past two seasons, was the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week this past week after sacking Browns quarterback Derek Anderson twice and returning a fumble 37 yards for a fourth-quarter, game-winning touchdown. The fumble that Mathis returned was caused by a sack by Freeney, who has eight sacks this season after missing seven games last season with a foot injury. Andrews has started every game this season and Jones missed the last two weeks with a leg injury.
• Colts center Jamey Richard versus Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko. Richard is expected to make a second consecutive start for three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday (calf), and in the last two games, he has faced two of the league's top nose tackles – Jamal Williams of the Chargers and Shaun Rogers of the Browns. Richard fared well in each of those matchups, according to Colts President Bill Polian, and this week he will face a player of similar stature and ability in Peko, a third-year veteran from Michigan State and the brother of former Colts offensive lineman Tupe Peko.
BENGALS IN REVIEW
The Bengals started slowly this season, and despite several quality performances against contending teams, they have struggled to overcome a rash of injuries.
Cincinnati lost its first eight games of the season, playing tough at Baltimore before a 17-10 loss and taking the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants to overtime before losing, 26-23, at Giants Stadium.
They also lost in September to Tennessee and Cleveland at home, then lost the first two games in October at Dallas and at the New York Jets before one-sided losses at home to Pittsburgh (38-10) and at Houston (35-6).
Their first victory came on November 2, 21-19, over Jacksonville at home, and a week later they tied the Philadelphia Eagles at home, 13-13.
A loss in Pittsburgh (27-10) followed the Eagles game before their most one-sided loss of the season this past week at home against the Ravens.
One reason for the Bengals' struggles this season: turnover differential. After 12 games, their turnover margin is minus-5, tied for 13th in the AFC, and only teams in the NFL – Houston, Denver, Seattle, Detroit and San Francisco – have a worse differential. Of that group, only Denver is above .500. For the Bengals, that differential is a contrast to their usual statistics under head coach Marvin Lewis. During his tenure (2003-present), the Bengals rank third in the NFL at plus-37. Indianapolis, which has won five consecutive AFC South titles, has the NFL's best margin during the same span at plus-71.
The Colts and Bengals have played 22 times in the regular season, with the Colts leading the series, 14-8. Indianapolis has won the last five meetings between the teams, a streak that dates to 1997, when the Bengals won, 28-13, in Indianapolis. This will be the sixth time in the last seven meetings the teams have played in Indianapolis. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is 5-0 against the Bengals, throwing 14 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the five games. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison has averaged nearly 100 yards a game against the Bengals, having caught 44 passes for 597 yards and six touchdowns in six meetings. The teams have played once in the postseason, with the Colts winning, 17-0, en route to their victory over Dallas in Super Bowl V.
On December 18, 2006, the Colts beat the Bengals, 34-16, in the RCA Dome, with quarterback Peyton Manning throwing a season-high four touchdown passes and the Colts' defense turning in one of its best performances of the season against one of the NFL's top offenses. The victory snapped the Colts' first two-game regular-season losing streak of the season, and the first two-game losing streak in games with playoff implications since the middle of the 2004 season. Manning completed 29 of 36 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 136.3. Manning threw touchdowns of 4, 1 and 3 yards to wide receiver Marvin Harrison and an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne. The Colts did not punt until the fourth quarter, and the only possessions before that that did not end in a score came when punt returner Terrence Wilkins muffed a first-half punt and when the Colts were stopped on downs early in the second half. The victory came a day after the Colts (11-3) clinched a fourth consecutive AFC South title. The Colts' defense, which entered the game last in the NFL against the run, allowed just 278 yards – 133 rushing – and one touchdown to the NFL's seventh-ranked offense.