Lack of closing punch proves costly for Bengals in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals started fast Sunday. Then they wound up with an all-too-familiar result.

After building a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and scoring on their first four possessions, Cincinnati managed only one more field goal and headed home from Indianapolis with a 31-27 loss.

“I don’t know what happened in the second (quarter), I guess we just let off the gas, and we can’t do that,” rookie receiver Tee Higgins said. “We’ve got to stay in full throttle the whole game and finish it up.”

It’s a lesson Cincinnati (1-4-1) learned the hard way, blowing a 21-point lead for the fifth time in franchise history — the second time it’s happened against Philip Rivers. The Colts quarterback also erased a 21-point deficit against the Bengals in 2006 when he was with the San Diego Chargers.

And the extra-frustrating things about this one is the Bengals seemed to be doing everything right.

Joe Burrow was a solid 25 of 39 with 313 yards. He scored the Bengals’ second touchdown, a 2-yard run on fourth down to make it 14-0, and the only major mistake he made came on an interception into coverage with 39 seconds left in the game.

Still , he blamed himself.

“I’ve just got to make a better play, make a better decision. I knew (Julian Blackmon) was over there, I didn’t know he was that tight,” Burrow said. “I played well for three quarters and 14 minutes. One bad play.”

Joe Mixon’s running provided the Bengals with some crucial balance early as he generated 44 yards and one touchdown on 11 first-half carries. But after hurting his right foot in the first quarter, Mixon logged seven carries for only 10 yards in the second half.

Higgins had his most productive game, catching six passes for 125 yards, and A.J. Green re-emerged with eight receptions for 96 yards after getting shut out last week at Baltimore.

The defense recovered a fumble on the Colts’ second play and forced two quick punts as the Bengals took control. But by scoring three points after those first four productive possessions, it left the defense unable to keep the pressure on Rivers, and he took full advantage.

The eight-time Pro Bowler closed the first half with TD passes to Trey Burton and Zach Pascal, getting the Colts within 24-21. A 14-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle to open the fourth quarter gave the Colts the only lead they needed, 28-27. Rivers finished 29 of 44 with 371 yards and one interception as Indy (4-2) won for the fourth time in five weeks.

“I feel like the whole game he knew exactly where we were,” safety Jessie Bates III said. “Every ball he threw was nearly out of bounds and only where their receivers can catch it, so props to Philip Rivers.”

And yet, even after all of that, the Bengals still had chances.

Bates’ interception snuffed out another Indianapolis scoring chance, and Burrow moved the Bengals into position to retake the lead with a 48-yard field goal. Instead, Randy Bullock, who made a 55-yarder earlier, clanked it off the right upright.

And after the Colts settled for a late 40-yard field goal while failing to run out the clock, Burrow gave them one more chance — until he forced the ball into coverage, yielding Blackmon’s game-sealing interception.

“We came out and started strong, put them in a tough position,” coach Zac Taylor said. “Our defense plays like they’re on fire, and then a couple things didn’t go our way. If we would have put points on the board on offense in the third quarter, late in the second quarter, the defense would kind of have that pressure off of them and go back and (play) like they did in the first quarter.”

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