Bengals 27, Colts 17
Kicker Adam Vinatieri found it surreal.
He lined up for a game-tying field goal, only to have it swatted away. A few minutes later, the Cincinnati Bengals forced a fumble and returned it for a clinching touchdown and a 27-17 victory Sunday that left the Indianapolis Colts still winless and a little more hopeless.
''It's not a lot of fun,'' Vinatieri said. ''We're close in every game and we're not just making a play to win the game.''
Instead, they've become rather practiced at giving them away. This one got away on two plays.
Cornerback Nate Clements blocked Vinatieri's late field goal try that would have tied the game, and Carlos Dunlap returned a fumble 35 yards for the clinching score with 2:22 to go, sending the Colts into another week of wondering when they're finally going to win.
The question for the Colts is how low they will go. They're 0-6 for only the fifth time in franchise history, and quarterback Peyton Manning isn't coming back anytime soon.
''Each game, we're in it in the fourth quarter and something happens,'' defensive back Jerraud Powers said. ''Something dramatic happens.''
The Colts had won their last seven games against Cincinnati with Manning running the plays. He was relegated to watching from the sideline as the Bengals (4-2) ended that streak and matched their win total from last season.
Once again, they had a chance at the end.
Curtis Painter rallied Indianapolis from a 20-7 deficit in the second half, getting the Colts in range for Vinatieri's 52-yard field goal try to tie with 5:38 left. Clements came around the end of the line and swatted it away.
That dramatic play was quickly followed by another. After the Bengals missed a field goal, Pierre Garcon was stripped of the ball as he tried to get extra yards after a catch, with the ball flying directly to Dunlap nearby. His touchdown return was upheld on review.
''I thought I was down,'' Garcon said. ''Having it come down to that play, it's tough. It's the same story - we've got to finish games off. We're close, but things happen.''
Bad things happen, that is.
Two weeks earlier, Tampa Bay scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally for a 24-17 win over the Colts. Then, Kansas City scored three straight touchdowns to pull out a 28-24 win.
This time, they blew chances to catch up.
''We're close,'' linebacker Pat Angerer said. ''We're not a bad team. We've got great players. We're not getting blown out. It's just a little thing here or there.''
Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton put together an impressive performance against the Colts' hard-charging defense. He was 25 of 32 for 264 yards and one touchdown without a sack, completing 13 straight throws over one stretch.
Clements got it going by stripping Dallas Clark of the ball on Painter's first completion, setting up Dalton's 11-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green.
The Colts' mess of an offense took two more hits Sunday.
Already missing Manning, the Colts also were without injured running back Joseph Addai and left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Indianapolis had to shuffle its line, moving Jeff Linkenbach from right to left tackle. Guard Ryan Diam, hobbled by an ankle injury, moved from guard to right tackle.
Not a good way to go against the NFL's top-ranked defense.
Still, the Colts had a chance.
Painter's 1-yard touchdown pass to Clark - the tight end made a one-hand catch at the back of the end zone - cut it to 20-17 with 9:33 left. He would get them in range for the tying field goal, only to have Clements - a free agent acquisition who replaced Johnathan Joseph - slap it away. Dunlap's fumble return ended Indy's chances.
''It's disappointing, but not discouraging,'' said Painter, who was 23 of 34 for 188 yards with his first interception in 115 attempts. ''We're going to keep going and work for that win.''
Notes: The Colts' other such starts: 1997 (0-10), 1991 (0-9), 1986 (0-13) and 1982 (0-6). ... Colts LB A.J. Edds left the game in the third quarter and was evaluated for a possible concussion. ... Nugent's miss from 43 yards into a swirling wind snapped his streak of 13 straight field goals to start the season. ... It was the Bengals' first blocked field goal since Antwan Odom blocked Kris Brown's try on Oct. 18, 2009 against Houston.