Colts 23, Bengals 17

The Indianapolis Colts don’t need Peyton Manning playing at an
MVP level to win every game.

On Sunday, they found an old-fashioned formula – defense and
turnovers – works just fine.

The Colts overcame Manning’s season-low 185 yards by scoring 17
points off five Cincinnati turnovers and stopped the Bengals twice
in the final 2 minutes, 40 seconds to preserve a 23-17 victory
Sunday.

”That’s the way it has been with this team over the years,”
defensive end Dwight Freeney said. ”We find ways to win games like
this. We needed to do that today, and we did.”

The injury-depleted Colts (6-3) retook sole possession of the
AFC South lead thanks to Tennessee’s loss at Miami.

But it certainly wasn’t pretty.

The four-time league MVP completed 20 of 36 yet had the lowest
yardage total of any game he’s finished since Nov. 30, 2008 at
Cleveland. His quarterback rating of 69.8 marked the first time
he’s had sub-70 ratings in successive weeks since November 2007 and
for the second time this season, Manning didn’t throw a
touchdown.

The explanation: He’s working with some new parts.

Indy played again without All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark,
running back Joseph Addai, short-yardage specialist Mike Hart and
receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie.

And all those absences finally caught up to the Colts, whose
only offensive touchdown came on a 3-yard run from undrafted rookie
Javarris James.

”We had chances to put the game possibly out of reach and we
did not do that,” Manning said, referring to the offensive
struggles. ”Fortunately our defense was able to hang on there at
the end.”

The defense played well all day.

Cornerback Kelvin Hayden scored on a 31-yard interception
return. Backup linebacker Tyjuan Hagler nearly scored on another
pick and Antonio Johnson’s fumble recovery set up Adam Vinatieri
for a short field goal late in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, nothing went right for the Bengals (2-7).

Carson Palmer was 31 of 42 for 287 yards with two TD passes,
three interceptions and three sacks. Cedric Benson ran 14 times for
24 yards and lost a fumble that led to one field goal.

Chad Ochocinco caught seven passes for 86 yards and one score
but finished the game with a sore left shoulder.

”I just hit the floor; it just popped out,” he said. ”It does
the same thing every year. Nothing new.”

Even rookie Jermaine Gresham’s best NFL game, nine catches for
85 yards and the TD catch that got the Bengals within 23-17 with
2:35 was tarnished. He lost the fumble that cost Cincinnati its
best chance to win, at the Colts’ 34, with 2:33 to go after the
Bengals had recovered an onside kick.

Manning improved to 7-0 against the Bengals, who found
themselves following a familiar script during this six-game losing
streak.

”Everybody needs to be on the same page, like an old married
couple,” Ochocinco said. ”Like a man being able to say a sentence
and your wife being able to finish it off. The more we’re on the
same page, the easier it is.”

It wasn’t easy for Palmer & Co. on Sunday.

When Palmer and Terrell Owens had a first-quarter
miscommunication, Hayden jumped the route, grabbed the ball and
sprinted 31 yards for a 10-0 lead.

Benson lost a fumble on the Bengals next offensive play, and
James capped the seven-play drive with his scoring run to make it
17-0.

Finally, the Bengals started correcting things.

Mike Nugent booted a short field goal, and a beautiful double
toe-tap from Ochocinco for a 5-yard score got Cincinnati within
17-10 with 1:06 left in the first half.

It was too much time for Manning, who set up Vinatieri for a
47-yard field goal as time expired.

”That was huge,” Indy coach Jim Caldwell said.

Indy nearly sealed the win when officials ruled Hagler scored on
a 45-yard interception return early in the fourth quarter, but
Lewis contended Hagler was down by contact at the Bengals 10 and
won the challenge.

So the Colts settled for another field goal to make it
23-10.

Cincinnati answered with the 19-yard score from Palmer to
Gresham and got the ball twice in the final 2:40, but fumbled it
away the first time. Palmer was sacked twice the second time and
Ochocinco dropped the final pass of the day – a fitting end to an
ugly game.

”We just have to keep working and find a way to score more
points and keep our defense out of those pressure situations,”
Manning said. ”They came up big all day and we have to try and do
our part.”

Notes: Vinatieri’s first field goal Sunday gave him 1,600 career
points. … Ochocinco’s first-half TD catch gave him 65 career
scores, breaking a tie with James Brooks (64) for second in
franchise history. Only Pete Johnson (70) has more. … Reggie
Wayne caught three passes for 34 yards, joining former teammate
Marvin Harrison as the only players in league history to top the
10,000-yard receiving mark with one quarterback. … Nugent was
carried off the field by his teammates after hurting his knee on
the onside kick. Lewis did not have details about the injury but
said it did not look good.