Andrew Luck was the catalyst for the Indianapolis Colts' most complete performance since ... well, since the last time they played the Cincinnati Bengals. Luck passed for 376 yards, freeing the running game to pick up an efficient 114 yards on the ground. The Colts shut down the Bengals' running game in the second half. Those combined efforts resulted in a 26-10 win, sending Indianapolis to Denver to face the Broncos in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs next week.
The game turned on a spectacular 36-yard touchdown pass from Luck to rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief midway through the third quarter. What had been a tight game to that point (the Colts led 13-10 at halftime) suddenly felt much more lopsided. A two-score deficit meant that the Bengals had to abandon the run to get back in the game, and Andy Dalton was ineffective without two of his best pass catchers in A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham.
After halftime, the Bengals had gained just 98 total yards of offense. Cincinnati needed its running game to continue to be as effective as it was at the end of the regular season to compete, but Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard picked up just 53 yards on 16 combined carries -- and average of 3.3 yards per rush.
As the Bengals' running game slowed down, what has at times been a moribund Colts rushing attack picked up behind Daniel "Boom" Herron and rookie Zurlon Tipton. The Colts topped the century mark in the running game for the first time since Week 15.
Three things we learned:
1) Andrew Luck is awesome
The numbers are great on their own -- 31-for-44 for 376 yards and a touchdown -- but he put those numbers up in the face of a pretty good pass rush. Luck made the efforts of the Bengals' front seven irrelevant. This is what happened when the Bengals thought they had Luck dead to rights:
Luck had an easy time hitting receivers in stride -- often rolling out -- against an excellent defense. He proved he has the chops to take the Colts far. Whether the rest of team is good enough is another question.
2) Andrew Luck must hate everyone
Letters from the war
A missive from the Battle of Lucas Oil
Historians discovered a dispatch from Brig. Gen. Andrew Luck to his beloved Martha after defeating the marauding Cincinnati Bengals.
Letters from the war
Luck could have had an ever better day. He barely missed on what would have been huge gains in the first quarter to T.Y. Hilton, who also had a bad drop on a third-down pass that would have given the Colts a first down inside the Bengals' 10-yard line. Later in the second quarter, Herron was stripped after gaining 17 yards on a short pass from Luck.
The Colts outgained the Bengals, 263-156, in the first half, and yet carried just a 13-10 lead going into intermission. The score could have been more lopsided if the Colts had gotten in sync sooner. Things clicked in the second half, however, and Indianapolis will roll into next week's game against the Denver Broncos in good shape.
3) There is no consolation for the Bengals
Andy Dalton became the first quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger to lose his first four playoff games (Y.A. Tittle was the first ever). Dalton wasn't that bad relative to his other playoff outings -- his 63.4 quarterback rating was actually better than two of his other three appearances -- but he didn't do his offense much good. The fact thatand Jermaine Gresham were out didn't help. As soon as the Colts shut down the running plays that had been so effective in the first half, the Bengals were doomed.
The Bengals defense did about as much as it could in the face of a tremendous performance by Luck. It's clear now that Cincinnati's offense isn't up to snuff.