Hello again, Peyton Manning.
The Indianapolis Colts rode the passing arm of quarterback Andrew Luck and a stingy second-half defense to a 26-10 AFC Wild Card playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Their reward is a trip to Denver to face Manning and the Broncos at 4:40 p.m. Sunday in the AFC Divisional playoff round. The Broncos defeated the visiting Colts 31-24 in the season opener.
Cincinnati stayed close for a half as the Colts lost a fumble, dropped passes and committed penalties, just enough to stall promising scoring drives. The Colts’ lead was just 13-10, but it seemed like it should have been twice that.
In the second half, it became that.
Luck was near flawless as he completed 31-of-44 passes for 376 yards and a 36-yard TD pass to rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Another touchdown pass to tight end Coby Fleener was negated by a Moncrief illegal-block penalty.
Second-year running back Dan Herron, who was once on Cincinnati’s practice squad, started and had a 3-yard TD run on the game’s opening series. Herron ran 12 times for 56 yards and also had 10 receptions for 85 yards.
When the Colts couldn’t score touchdowns, they counted on 42-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri, who converted field goals of 38, 29, 22 and 53 yards.
The second half more closely resembled the regular-season meeting, when the Colts crushed the Bengals 27-0 on Oct. 19 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bengals had just 134 total yards in that game.?
The Colts got after Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, stuffed the run and continued to get second-half stops as the visitors didn’t seriously threaten. Cincinnati gained just 19 yards in a lopsided third quarter, after which the Colts led 23-10, and just 98 in the second half.
The Bengals lost middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to a hamstring injury in the first half. And they didn’t get any consistent pressure on Luck.
Cincinnati has never won a road playoff game and their last postseason victory was 24 years ago.
Dalton remained winless in four playoff starts. He completed 18-of-35 passes for 155 yards without a touchdown or interception and one lost fumble. The Colts sacked him three times.
The fourth-seeded Colts are in the AFC Divisional playoff round for the second consecutive year. They lost 43-22 at New England last January.
They’re 1-1 against their former franchise quarterback and future Hall of Famer. The Colts defeated Manning 39-33 in his 2013 Indianapolis homecoming return.
In the 2014 season opener, the Colts fell behind 24-0 before rallying and having one final chance to tie the game with a last offensive drive that ended in Broncos territory.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.