Dalton, Bengals spoil Luck’s return
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Cincinnati needed Clayton Fejedelem’s pinch-hitting skills Sunday.
He delivered with the perfect swing.
The Bengals’ backup safety jarred the ball loose from Pro Bowl tight end Jack Doyle with less than 35 seconds left in the game. Fejedelem scooped up the loose ball and sprinted down the sideline to end Andrew Luck’s comeback hopes with an 83-yard touchdown return to preserve the Bengals’ 34-23 victory.
“Really lucky he just turned, presented his chest and I saw the ball,” Fejedelem said. “I just tried to get down there and do whatever I could. It just kind of popped and the rest is history.”
It was an unlikely performance in the most unlikely circumstance.
Fejedelem was pressed into service only after starting safety Shawn Williams became the first player this season to be ejected following a helmet-to-helmet hit on Luck.
Fortunately for the Bengals, Fejedelem was ready for anything thrown his way.
He entered the game with 25 tackles in his first two NFL seasons, but finished with 10 tackles Sunday and even seemed to choreograph the head-first dive to cap his first NFL score.
The victory ended Cincinnati’s eight-game losing streak in Indy, gave the Bengals their fourth win in the past five openers and ended Luck’s last gasp chance of a comeback in his first regular-season start in more than 20 months.
“It was relief at that point,” Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton said after going 21 of 28 with 243 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. “Them driving the ball down there like that, I was nervous. Our guys made a great play. It’s a big play to end it.”
How desperate were the Bengals?
With Indy trailing 27-23, Luck took over with 3:52 to go and led the Colts to the Bengals 25.
Indy then lost 5 yards on a pass on first down and faced third-and-15 after an incompletion on second down.
Doyle caught Luck’s third down pass near the Bengals 15 and appeared to have twisted his way to a first down when he got stood up by one Bengals defender and Fejedelem knocked the ball loose before Doyle’s knee hit the ground.
“I messed it up,” Doyle said. “It stings.”
Luck was 39 of 53 for 319 yards, two TD passes and an interception on his first official throw of the season — an underthrown pass to Doyle inside the Bengals 5.
But Luck helped stake the Colts to a 23-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
Then, just like last season, the Colts couldn’t close it out.
Dalton cut the deficit to six with a 38-yard TD pass to A.J. Green and the Bengals retook the lead on Joe Mixon’s leaping 1-yard scoring run with 11:07 left to play. Randy Bullock made it 27-23 with a 39-yard field goal with 3:57 to go.
And then Fejedelem ended the Colts’ hopes with one crucial hit.
“To make the strip and make the return is big,” coach Marvin Lewis said.
The Colts and Bengals both refrained from any player protests while the national anthem was sung. And neither team had anyone in the locker room.
Bengals: Mixon carried 17 times for 95 yards and five catches for 54 yards. Green caught six passes for 92 yards and Preston Brown picked off Luck on the Colts’ first possession of the game. Cincinnati was called for four personal fouls.
Colts: Adam Vinatieri made three field goals, missing a 55-yarder just before Cincinnati’s go-ahead score. He has 562 field goals, three short of Morten Andersen’s league record. Luck connected with nine receivers, led by Ryan Grant who had eight catches for 59 yards and Doyle who had seven catches for 60 yards.
Bengals: Brown limped off the field late in the first half with an injured right ankle. Defensive tackle Andrew Billings also left with leg cramps late in the third quarter.
Colts: Indy did not play with longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo (hamstring), projected right tackle Denzelle Good (knee/wrist) or running back Marlon Mack (hamstring). The Colts also lost cornerback Chris Milton in the second half after he entered the concussion protocol.
THEY SAID IT
Bengals: “You’re back,” Lewis said he told Luck after the game.
Colts: “I was certainly a bit emotional before the game and I wish we would have won,” Luck said. “I think I was a little careless with the ball when we had a chance to put some points on the board and make it an insurmountable lead and we don’t do it.
Bengals: Head home to host Baltimore on Thursday night.
Colts: Begin a two-game road trip against the NFC East by visiting Washington next Sunday.