The Colts couldn't wait to return home to host the disappointing Bengals after dropping their third game of the season — all on the road — to the Eagles last week. In addition to losing a hard-fought affair 26-24, the Colts also added several names to the laundry list of injured players, with WRs Austin Collie (concussion) and Blair White (shoulder) going down and defensive captain Gary Brackett injuring his toe.
After facing the Eagles on short rest — the Colts defeated the Texans on "Monday Night Football" in Week Eight — Indy was the beneficiary of having the Bengals come to town after a short week of preparation — Cincy lost a slugfest to its AFC North rival Steelers last Monday night.
The Colts' defense capitalized on the Bengals' early mistakes, turning two Bengals' turnovers on their first three possessions into 14 points. Indy's opportunistic "D" forced five turnovers on the afternoon, picking up the slack for Peyton Manning and a number of second-string players on the offensive side of the football en route to a 23-17 victory.
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While the Colts' defense was unable to put Manning and the patchwork offense in Philly on its shoulders, it rose to the occasion on Sunday. Playing without Brackett and starting WLB Clint Session, the "D" still managed to make enough plays to overcome the worst performance by the offense this season — Indy mustered only 256 total net yards.
With CB Jerraud Powers showing his rust after missing the two previous games with a foot injury, much-maligned CB Kelvin Hayden set the tone early for the Colts, intercepting a Carson Palmer pass intended for Terrell Owens on the second Bengals drive and returning it 31 yards for a 10-0 Colts lead late in the first quarter.
In addition to his second pick-six in three weeks, Hayden led the Colts in tackles (nine) and also had a hand in Aaron Francisco's fourth-quarter interception. Given the task of keeping Owens, one of the hottest receivers in the league, in check, Hayden played his best game of the season when the Colts needed it most. While Jerraud Powers has stolen the spotlight at times this season, Hayden's effort on Sunday reminded Colts fans why he is still regarded as the team's top corner.
And while Hayden was the brightest star on defense, many of his defensive teammates also deserve recognition for making Bengals RB Cedric Benson a non-factor — Benson totaled a paltry 24 yards on 14 carries. DT Dan Muir was stout at the point of attack, DE Dwight Freeney was in the Bengals' backfield consistently and even SLB Philip Wheeler, who was benched two weeks ago in favor of rookie Pat Angerer before being forced into action on Sunday, played well, forcing a Benson fumble that turned into seven points for the offense in the first half.
It was a great defensive effort by the Colts, who will need more of the same this coming Sunday when they travel to Foxborough to face the Patriots in one of the NFL's best rivalries. Tom Brady is coming off his best game of the season in a win over the Steelers, and you know both teams will be amped up to prove that the road to the AFC championship once again could have to go through Indianapolis or New England.