CINCINNATI (AP) — Except for those wintery winds, it felt a lot like October all over again.
Andy Dalton gave his best performance since his record-setting month, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another on Sunday, and the Cincinnati Bengals retained control of the AFC North with a 42-28 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
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The Bengals (9-4) maintained a two-game lead over second-place Baltimore with three games left, two of them at Paul Brown Stadium.
“We have to keep this going,” said Dalton, who was 24 of 35 for 275 yards without a sack or interception. “We have a lot of momentum. We have to keep it going through these last couple of games. We are playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
The Colts (8-5) clinched the AFC South later Sunday when Tennessee lost in Denver. That wasn’t much consolation for Indianapolis, which has played two poor games in the last three.
“We’ve got some things to clean up, but we certainly came down here with the mindset that we wanted to win this football game and certainly win the division that way,” coach Chuck Pagano said.
They never caught up after another slow start. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs — one of them after the officials overturned a call that he was down outside the end zone — as the Bengals pulled ahead 21-0 and held on despite Andrew Luck’s four touchdown passes.
“We’re on a roll,” middle linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “At the beginning of the year, we had three goals. We wanted to be undefeated at home, win the AFC North and eventually be world champions.
“We’re close to the goals we wanted to get to. We’ve got to be good from here out.”
Five things learned from a cold afternoon in Cincinnati:
BENGALS ARE BEASTLY AT HOME: Cincinnati improved to 6-0 at Paul Brown Stadium, its best home record since it won all eight games in 1988 plus two playoff games on its way to a Super Bowl loss to San Francisco. The Bengals have scored at least 40 points in their last three home games, a franchise record.
DALTON’S BACK: The third-year quarterback was the AFC’s top offensive player in October with a touchdown splurge — a club-record 11 in three games. He’d been average to subpar in the four games since. On Sunday, he completed his first five passes and was accurate on a windy, 28-degree afternoon.
“He takes a lot of heat,” receiver A.J. Green said. “It comes with the position. But he’s our guy. He’s going to take us to that next level.”
BERNARD’S DUAL THREAT: Rookie Giovani Bernard came up a yard short of the first 100-yard rushing game by a Bengal this season, finishing with 99 yards on 12 carries. He also caught four passes for 49 yards. He was the biggest threat as Cincinnati rushed for 155 yards overall behind a line overhauled because of injuries, with 2012 Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth starting at left guard.
COLTS CAN’T GET GOING: The Colts have been outscored 49-9 in the first quarters of the past six games, forcing them to play comeback. They fell behind 21-0 Sunday and couldn’t make it all the way back despite Luck’s four touchdown passes.
“As an offense, we didn’t do enough and we didn’t do it early enough,” said Luck, who was 29 of 46 for 326 yards without an interception or a sack.
WAS HE DOWN? The Bengals got a disputed touchdown for a 14-0 lead late in the first half. They went for it on fourth down from the Colts 1-yard line. Green-Ellis took the handoff and appeared to get tripped in the backfield by nose tackle Josh Chapman.
“I hit his foot when he came through,” said Chapman, who started celebrating his play.
Green-Ellis stumbled ahead, landed at the 1-yard line and stretched the ball into the end zone. He was initially ruled down, but the Bengals were awarded a touchdown after a review that focused only on whether Green-Ellis was touched as he fell, not whether Chapman tripped him in the backfield.
“We looked at the goal line, (those) were the shots that we looked at,” referee Jeff Triplette said.