By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Dungy readily admitted Sunday that it felt a little strange, standing on the sidelines at Lucas Oil Stadium late in the fourth quarter of the Indianapolis Colts game with the Cincinnati Bengals, and his team holding a 32-point lead.
After all, the average winning margin during the Colts’ previous five National Football League victories was a measly four points. But after watching Indianapolis register a 35-3 whipping on the struggling Bengals, improving its record to 9-4 overall, Dungy was just happy to get the game over with.
“We haven’t had that [a big lead in a game] in such a long time. You get them by working hard. You never know when they are going to come. But it was fun to have some of our young guys in there and see them play and get some rest for our [veteran] guys,” the Colts coach said afterward.
“We have two games coming up in five days [this week at home against the winless Detroit Lions, then a nationally televised Thursday night road trip to face AFC South foe Jacksonville on Dec. 18]. We’ll need that [rest] and hopefully take advantage of it.”
But as dominating a victory as the win over the Bengals was, it could have very easily had been even more one-sided. Tight end Dallas Clark fumbled a second-quarter pass from quarterback Peyton Manning at the goal line, which was recovered by Cincinnati. And a wide-open Reggie Wayne lost the ball in the lights and couldn’t come up with a Manning pass after getting behind the Bengals’ defense later in the same quarter.
As it turned out, for a change, the Colts didn’t need the points. A workmanlike effort by Manning, who completed 26 of 32 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns, and a stifling defensive effort led by pass rushing ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney gave Indianapolis all the security it needed.
“Everyone thinks these games are going to be easy and they’ll look at the final score and feel like it was. But we had to work. Everybody came out and played well. With [Cincinnati’s] defense, we thought that they were going to blitz us a lot more. But they made us be patient,” Dungy said.
“We had one [offensive] drive when we had a fumble down [at the goal line]. We were kind of hammering away early. But we got a couple of big plays on defense, got some takeaways. And in the second half, we got rolling. It was a good effort and the kind of thing that you need to start off December. I told the team that [the effort] was what we expected. So we got that and now we can look to next week.”
Indianapolis had 334 yards in total offense, 277 through the air, as Manning got blocking tight end Gijon Robinson into the mix early on. Robinson, who had just seven catches for 32 yards going into the Bengals game, had career highs in catches (six) and yards (69).
Wayne added five receptions for 48 yards while Marvin Harrison had three catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Harrison’s 67-yard catch and run late in the third quarter put the ball at the Bengals’ 4-yard line, setting up a scoring pass to Clark.
Anthony Gonzalez hauled in his fourth touchdown catch of the year, coming up with a 2-yard dart from Manning midway through the third quarter. Gonzalez had three catches for 27 yards on the day.
Dominic Rhodes got most of the work at running back after starter Joseph Addai was bothered throughout the game by a sore shoulder. Rhodes had a team-high 31 yards in 10 carries, with 17 coming on a touchdown run in the first quarter.
Mathis (six tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble), Freeney (three tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, two tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries) and cornerback Kelvin Hayden (four tackles, a tackle for loss, two interceptions, four passes broken up) provided most of the defensive support.
Hayden’s 85-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:02 remaining in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for the Colts, who now have won six in a row after beginning the 2008 season with a 3-4 record.
“[Hayden] was getting excellent reads on the quarterback and getting a jump on things. He got a good jump in our zones on the quarterback. He made some big plays back there,” Dungy said.
Indianapolis will return to Lucas Oil Stadium next Sunday for a 1 p.m. game with the 0-13 Lions. Cincinnati dropped to 1-11-1 for the season heading into a home game with the Washington Redskins.