A roughing the passer penalty that negated the Cincinnati Bengals’ fumble return to the 4-yard line turned out to be a momentum-changer for them regardless.
The call against Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap sparked the team for a fourth-quarter comeback, as Cincinnati rallied to beat the Indianapolis Colts 34-23 in the season-opener Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
»PHOTOS: Bengals rally past Colts
With the Bengals trailing by six in the third quarter, Dunlap sacked Andrew Luck to jostle the ball loose, but as Clayton 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.
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.
The Bengals offense responded with a seven-play scoring drive, capped by Joe Mixon’s one-yard run for the 24-23 advantage with 11:07 left and that would have been enough before Randy Bullock added a 39-yard field goal and Fejedelem ran back a fumble return 83 yards for the final score with 24 seconds remaining.
Indianapolis had led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, finding success with several short passes up the middle that the Bengals couldn’t seem to defend. Luck connected with T.Y. Hilton on a quick slant for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 23-10 with 8:13 left.
The Bengals began showing some signs of life after that, though, and A.J. Green grabbed a 38-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to make it a six-point game before Dunlap’s sacks helped the Cincinnati defense make a stop. The Colts punted just twice for the game, including once on the drive after Mixon’s touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Cincinnati didn’t get the start they were hoping for as the offense turned the ball over twice in the first quarter and the Colts took advantage for a 16-10 halftime lead. The Bengals got a late score in the second quarter when 2017 first-round draft pick John Ross caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Dalton for his first NFL catch after playing just 17 snaps on offense last year.
Otherwise, it was a lackluster first half for the Bengals, who were helped by a pass interference call two plays prior when Quincy Wilson grabbed A.J. Green’s arm to prevent him from making a touchdown catch.
Dalton was intercepted on the first pass attempt of the game and he ended up with a touchdown-saving tackle. Al Woods beat rookie center Billy Price at the line of scrimmage and got a hit on Dalton’s arm as he was releasing the ball, which floated over Mixon’s head.
The Bengals quickly got the ball back when Preston Brown intercepted Luck’s first pass of the game at the 5-yard line, but Cincinnati’s offense stalled at the Colts’ 22-yard line and settled for a 42-yard field goal from Randy Bullock.
After Indy tied the game at 3, Green ended up fumbling while trying to extend a 13-yard catch with four seconds left in the first quarter. The Colts took advantage, driving 58 yards on seven plays for a 10-3 lead as Luck threw his first touchdown pass since Jan. 1, 2017 as the Bengals defense seemed out of sorts. He connected with wide open tight end Eric Ebron on a 26-yard pass down the left side.
The Bengals were looking at just a three-point deficit going into halftime after Ross’ touchdown but Adam Vinatieri hit a 51-yarder on the final play before halftime for his third field goal of the game.
There were few other bright spots in the first half for Cincinnati. Joe Mixon got off to a strong start with 55 yards on six carries to go along with 29 yards on two catches, but the Bengals finished with just 54 yards rushing for the half. Dalton completed 10 of 14 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Eifert, playing his first game since Sept. 14, 2017, had one catch for 29 yards to open up the drive that resulted in Bullock’s field goal.