Andrew Luck stood tall, even as he was falling down Sunday.
The Colts quarterback threw for 376 yards and a game-changing touchdown as he was headed to the turf. Daniel “Boom” Herron ran for another score as Indianapolis dominated the second half to beat Cincinnati 26-10 in the wild-card round.
As the Colts (12-5) were setting up a rematch at Denver (12-4) next Sunday, the Bengals frittered away a chance to end their postseason misery.
The Bengals became the first team in NFL history to lose four consecutive opening-round games. Andy Dalton tied Warren Moon for the most consecutive opening-round playoff losses by a quarterback.
Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis tied Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Mora and Steven Owen for most consecutive playoff losses (six) by a coach. Lewis also tied Mora, the former Colts coach, for most consecutive playoff losses to start a career, and tied Owen for most consecutive playoff losses with one team.
Now Luck will get a chance to defy his short NFL playoff history. Though he improved to 2-0 at home, the Colts' franchise quarterback has struggled mightily in consecutive playoff losses on the road. His third opportunity will come against his predecessor in Indy, Peyton Manning. Denver beat the Colts 31-24 in the season opener.
Luck couldn't be going into the next game under better circumstances. He finished 31 of 44 and for the first time did not have a turnover in a playoff game. He also joined Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon and Drew Brees as the only NFL players with three straight 300-yard games in the postseason and managed to keep his feet and his poise on the biggest play of the game.
“I sort of stepped up in a crease there, saw Donte (Moncrief) running his butt off and tried to put it in a spot where only he could get it,” Luck said. “He does such a great job of running underneath those balls and we had the touch.”
While it wasn't the clean game Colts Coach Chuck Pagano envisioned — T.Y. Hilton dropped a couple of potentially game-changing passes; Herron lost a fumble; and the Colts were called for nine penalties — Luck and the offense did enough. The defense was even better, allowing just 254 yards against the Bengals (10-6-1), who played without injured receiver A.J. Green or tight end Jermaine Gresham, their two top pass catchers.
The difference between Luck and Dalton was never more apparent than on two third-quarter plays.
On second-and-10 from the Bengals 36, Luck floated a perfect pass to the corner of the end zone with Carlos Dunlap taking him to the ground. Moncrief cradled the ball to his chest for a 36-yard score and a 20-10 lead.
“I wasn't shocked because we do that play a lot,” Moncrief said. “We run that play a lot in practice, but I was shocked that I caught it in that situation."
When Dalton got the ball back, he had Brandon Tate open deep down the middle on a flea-flicker. But Colts cornerback Greg Toler raced over and broke up the underthrown pass. Three plays later, the Bengals punted. They never seriously challenged again.
Dalton completed 18 of 35 passes for 155 yards and lost a fumble, while rookie Jeremy Hill rushed 13 times for 47 yards.
Hilton caught six passes for 103 yards, Herron had 10 catches for 85 yards — he also rushed for 56 yards — and Adam Vinatieri made four field goals.
Mike Nugent made a 57-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the first half to cut Indy's lead to 13-10. It was the longest field goal in franchise history.
But the Colts only gave up nine net yards in the third quarter, when Luck seized control with his acrobatic TD pass.
“It's kind of like missing a field goal that you should have hit,” Nugent said, referring to Cincinnati's continual playoff exits.