The Cincinnati Bengals rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final 20 minutes to open the season with a 34-23 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
A.J. Green caught a 38-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to begin a string of 24 unanswered points to finish the game, and the defense came to life after Carlos Dunlap’s sack fumble was negated by a roughing the passer call he said he had tried to avoid.
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Joe Mixon scored the go-ahead touchdown, Randy Bullock added a 39-yard field goal and Clayton Fejedelem, who replaced Shawn Williams after a first-quarter ejection, sealed the win with an 83-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 24 seconds left.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Dunlap fires up
With the Bengals trailing by six in the third quarter, Dunlap sacked Andrew Luck to jostle the ball loose, but as Fejedelem recovered and ran back the ball back 44 yards into scoring territory, Dunlap fell victim to rule changes intended to better protect the quarterback. Officials called him for roughing the passer on a body weight penalty, which he said he made an effort to avoid.
Two plays later, Dunlap sacked Luck for an eight-yard loss and instead of punting at midfield, the Colts sent Adam Vinatieri out for a 55-yard field goal attempt that fell short leading into the fourth quarter.
“I had to come back and get another one,” Dunlap said. “I killed our team on that play because it was a sack-fumble … and that would have been a big play. I had to come back and get another one to get them out of field goal range.”
The Bengals offense responded with a seven-play scoring drive, capped by Mixon’s one-yard run for the 24-23 advantage with 11:07 left, and the Colts wouldn’t score again.
Dunlap said he was fired up by the penalty call, which he felt was an effort to protect Luck when Dalton wasn’t getting the same treatment. Luck was playing his first game since undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in January 2017.
“I was pretty angry,” Dunlap said. “I put my hands on the ground to keep my weight (off) and I rolled off immediately. That right there was a very tough play coming full speed. I wanted not to get the penalty. I knew it was Luck too, so they were going to call it tighter, but it’s a fast game. There’s no way to completely avoid some situations and I did the next best thing.”
2. Fejedelem shines
Fejedelem, a seventh-round draft pick in 2016, has made his name so far on special teams but was thrust into the spotlight on defense when Williams was ejected in the first quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Luck.
Sliding into Williams’ starting spot, Fejedelem ranked second on the team in tackles with 10 and would have had two fumble recoveries had his first one not been negated by the penalty on Dunlap. He also forced the fumble he returned for the game-sealing touchdown, knocking the ball free from tight end Jack Doyle’s hands at the end of a 15-yard catch in the red zone.
“Maybe I was just due for one,” Fejedelem said when asked about his first fumble recovery getting taken away. “You’ve just got to have a short memory, go out there and do what you can control. Today we came out on top, so it was a good thing.”
3. Mixon dominates
Mixon said last week that he would be ready for Week 1 despite a lackluster performance in the preseason.
He backed up those statements Sunday. The team’s 2017 second-round draft pick set a record for most yards from scrimmage for a Bengals running back in a season opener, totaling 149 yards to beat Essex Johnson’s 142 yards collected in 1973.
Mixon had 17 carries for 95 yards, an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and one touchdown but also had six catches for 54 yards, including a 21-yard reception in the first quarter.
“We came in here scheming, trying to see what they had going, and I was just taking what they gave us and we were making it work with it,” Mixon said.
4. Getting to Luck
The Bengals defense didn’t get much of a chance to display its highly touted pass rush, but that was more of a credit to Colts head coach Frank Reich’s game plan, which called for several quick, short passes.
Indianapolis stretched a halftime lead to 13 points in the third quarter that way, as Luck connected with T.Y. Hilton on a quick slant for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 23-10 with 8:13 left in the period. His longest pass on that drive was 13 yards.
“They were getting the ball off quick,” Dunlap said. “We have to do a little better job of getting our hands up and affecting the throws.”
The Bengals managed just two sacks on him, one by Geno Atkins early in the third quarter and the other by Dunlap. Luck completed 39 of 53 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, picked off by Preston Brown on Luck’s first pass.
5. Receivers hit or miss
Dalton completed 21 of 28 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns with one interception – Billy Price got beat by Al Woods and Woods hit Dalton’s arm on the throw – but his best receiver had an up-and-down day.
Green totaled six catches for 92 yards with one touchdown but had two fumbles, one the Colts recovered to set up a scoring drive late in the first quarter, and one bad drop in the end zone right before John Ross scored his first NFL touchdown.
Tyler Eifert was productive in his first game since Sept. 14, 2017, finishing with 44 yards on three catches and three targets, including a long of 29 yards. Ross had one catch for a 3-yard touchdown, which also marked his first NFL catch after playing just 17 snaps last year, but otherwise wasn’t much of a factor.