If one sequence defined the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive dominance in a 27-0 shutout of Cincinnati Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, it came in the second quarter.
On first down, the Cincinnati Bengals lined up running back Giovani Bernard out wide and Andy Dalton threw a quick pass. Colts cornerback Vontae Davis closed quickly and flattened Bernard with a hard shoulder hit. Incomplete. Bernard stayed down, and had to come out for one play.
On that next play, the confident Colts actually lined up all 11 defenders in the box. That doesn’t happen too often in the NFL. Nobody was deep. Colts safety Mike Adams admitted it’s rare. Dalton surveyed the defense and checked to a run, which lost 3 yards.
On third and 13, Bernard re-entered. Dalton threw yet another quick pass to his running back. This time, Adams was there in an instant and drilled Bernard. Incomplete again.
“I didn’t realize it was him,” Adams said, when asked about the three-and-out series. “He came back in the game and took two big hits like that? He definitely had a long day. He’s a tough kid.”
And what of the Colts employing 11 inside the box? What statement was sent with that unusually aggressive formation?
“Let’s go,” Adams said. “What you gonna do? It’s a challenge.”
The answer? Zilch.
“That’s good ball,” Adams said. Then he corrected himself. “No, that’s great ball.”
The Bengals didn’t gain a first down until the final minute of the first half. They didn’t convert a third down after 11 failures against the NFL”s No. 1 defense in that statistic until the final quarter. Cincinnati had another unflattering streak, dating back to a season-opening win at Baltimore, in failing to convert 20 consecutive third downs on the road.
The visitors didn’t run a play in Colts territory until the final quarter, finished with just 135 total yards, and tied a dubious franchise record with 11 punts.
When the Bengals did finally convert a third down, it snapped a Colts streak of 15 consecutive stops, dating back to the second quarter of the previous game. Cincinnati finished 1-of-13 on third down, the fourth consecutive game the Colts have limited an opponent to only one third-down conversion (4-of-41).
“We just fed off each other,” Davis said. “We enjoy playing with each other. We’re all brothers in this locker room.”
The Colts last blanked a team in 2008, 23-0 over Tennessee in the regular-season finale at this stadium. The Bengals had not suffered a shutout loss since the 2009 regular-season finale.
Adams said he had never been part of an NFL shutout in his 11-year NFL career. Davis couldn’t recall one in his six seasons, either.
“If I did, I can’t remember, not in the NFL,” Davis said.
The Colts (5-2) ran their win streak to five games in convincing fashion against the Bengals (3-2-1), who had entered as AFC North Division leaders. In another continuing trend, the Colts had the ball for 39 minutes, 43 seconds to the Bengals’ 20 minutes, 17 seconds. The home team leads the league in that stat as well.
Bengals defenders inevitably wore down, and they lost another player to injury when linebacker Vontaze Burfict hurt his neck in the second quarter and didn’t return. Cincinnati was already without linebacker Rey Maualuga, who was inactive due to a hamstring injury. Wide receiver A.J. Green didn’t play due to a lingering toe problem. And No. 2 wide receiver Marvin Jones went on injured reserve with an ankle problem this past week.
Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw provided two touchdowns, boosting his team-leading total to seven, with a 1-yard run in the second quarter and 10-yard scoring reception in the final quarter. Tight end Dwayne Allen broke loose for a 32-yard TD catch in the third quarter.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 27-of-42 passes for 344 yards and two scoring passes. The Colts amassed 506 total yards.
The game never seemed in doubt.
“It was a combination of everything,” said frustrated Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals had one ideal scoring opportunity midway through the final quarter. They had failed to convert on third down, yet again, and were looking at fourth and goal at the Colts’ 4.
Colts’ fans stood and cheered the defense with chants of “Shutout!”
Because the Colts were getting continual pocket pressure, the Bengals had to keep guys in to help block. Only one receiver actually ran a route in the end zone.
Dalton threw a short pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham, who was still a couple of yards from the goal line but couldn’t come down with the ball after getting swarmed by safety Sergio Brown and Davis.
The shutout was preserved. Colts fans actually started leaving at that point, with 8:30 remaining.
The shutout was cemented on the game’s final play at the Colts’ 38, when rookie Zach Kerr sacked Dalton. The Colts finished with four sacks.
What did the shutout mean to the Colts?
“Obviously everybody did their job,” Davis said with a laugh.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.