INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis has a message for the NFL: Its defense is pretty darned good.
And it can win games, too.
On a day Andrew Luck threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns Sunday and Indy ran for 171 yards, the Colts' usually overlooked defense overshadowed its higher-profile offensive counterparts with a 27-0 shutout of Cincinnati.
"We've always had confidence, but at the same time we want to humble ourselves and be on to the next game and try to do it again and again, and again, and again," safety Mike Adams said after getting his first shutout in 11 NFL seasons.
This was no fluke.
Over the previous four games, all wins, the Colts (5-2) had forced eight turnovers, got 16 sacks and limited opponents to 18.8 points. With a chance to crack into the top 10, Indianapolis' numbers were every bit as good:
• Andy Dalton was sacked three times Sunday compared with a league-low two in the previous five games.
• The Bengals, ranked No. 5 in total offense, managed 135 total yards, 32 on the ground.
• Kevin Huber punted a franchise-record tying 11 times, 10 of which followed three-and-outs.
• And when the Colts needed a fourth-quarter red-zone stop to preserve the shutout, they got that, too.
The Bengals (3-2-1) ran just eight plays in Colts territory, had only eight first downs and never had a chance after Dwayne Allen's brilliant 32-yard catch-and-run made it 17-0.
Indy did all that with Robert Mathis, the 2013 NFL sacks champ, relegated to waving a towel; starting defensive tackle Arthur Jones inactive; and starting linebacker Erik Walden ejected late in the first half for making contact with umpire Bruce Stritesky.
Luck, who finished 27 of 42 and posted his sixth 300-yard game of the season, enjoyed every minute.
"I'm just like a fan watching the game, I might as well just be a fan when our defense is out there," he said.
Luck wasn't the only one applauding Indy's breakout performance.
With his six-game suspension over, Jim Irsay returned to the owner's suite for the first time since the preseason. After three years of preaching about the need to have a balanced offense and stingy defense, Irsay and each defensive player received a game ball.
It was Indy's first shutout since beating Tennessee in the final game of the 2008 season.
The reeling Bengals, winless since starting 3-0, were abysmal.
Andy Dalton finished 18 of 36 for 126 yards. Giovanni Bernard carried seven times for 17 yards. Jermaine Gresham accounted for more than one-third of the Bengals' total yards with 10 catches for 48 yards.
In the first half, Cincinnati had only two first downs, the first courtesy of Walden's penalty with 48 seconds left in the second quarter. The worst part was enduring a shutout, the Bengals' first since the final game of the 2009 season.
"Things were disappointing," coach Marvin Lewis said. "Not having execution on third down offensively, to not make first downs and not make opportunities to keep the drives alive, and then have a couple plays on defense where we didn't play very well."
But Luck and the Colts certainly did.
T.Y. Hilton finished with seven catches for 107 yards, his second straight 100-yard game. Reggie Wayne caught four passes for 15 yards to give him 14,000 yards. He's the ninth NFL player in that club. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw scored twice, including his first TD rushing of the season. In all, the Colts had 506 total yards.
Luck didn't have to do much. He led Indy on two 68-yard drives in the first half, capping one with Adam Vinatieri's 23-yard field goal and the other with Bradshaw's 1-yard TD run to make it 10-0.
In the second half, Luck closed the first 85-yard drive with a late throw to Allen, who barely caught the ball on his fingertips, then turned upfield and tight-roped the sideline for the score. Luck sealed it with a 10-yard pass to Bradshaw that the officials originally ruled down just outside the goal line before reversing the call to give Indy a 24-0 lead.
The defense took care of the rest.
The teams were a combined 0 for 14 on third-down conversions in the first half, marking the first time that's happened in the same game since Cincinnati and Jacksonville did it Sept. 30, 2012, according to STATS. ... Bengals receiver A.J. Green was inactive for the second straight week. ... Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict (cervical sprain) and cornerback Leon Hall (strained lower back) both left the game early. ... Colts running back Trent Richardson was pulled early with a hamstring injury.
- Gary Arthur
- Dino Paganelli
- Gene Steratore
- Bruce Stritesky
- Jim Howey
- Scott Edwards
- Bob Waggoner