By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — CINCINNATI — It snowed before Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium and drizzled afterward.
In between, the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) rained points on a stumbling Indianapolis Colts defense en route to a 42-28 victory that clinched a key tiebreaker for the AFC playoffs.
"We got beat by a better team today," a disheveled Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said in the postgame interview room. "The Bengals beat our butts fair and square, and there's no way to mince those words."
But it was also clear the second-year signal-caller was haunted by some of the opportunities Indianapolis (8-5) left on the field.
Luck completed 29 of 46 passes for 326 yards and tied a career high with four touchdown passes, but the offense failed to score a single point during a first half the ended under a cloud of controversy.
Cincinnati led 7-0 facing fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line when second-year nose tackle Josh Chapman appeared to trip Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield and end the threat. The runner was originally ruled down by contact on the field and the ball was awarded to Indianapolis.
Upon a replay review, referee Jeff Triplette reversed his decision — ruling Green-Ellis was not touched at the goal line and awarding Cincinnati the touchdown. Photos later showed Chapman's hand making contact with Green-Ellis' foot in the backfield, but Triplette said during a bizarre postgame interview with a pool reporter that part of the play was not reviewed.
"When we reviewed the video at the goal line, there was nobody touching him there, and then he bounced into the end zone," Triplette said.
Pressed specifically about Chapman, the referee reiterated he'd seen no touch at the goal line and said those were the only shots he and the replay official reviewed.
"I felt my left foot get hit but don't know if I tripped on my own or was hit," Green-Ellis said. "That's something I'll have to watch film on and see how it went."
The Colts got the ball with 1:06 remaining but marched only to their own 46-yard line before punting it away and taking a 14-0 deficit into the locker room.
Cincinnati pressed the issue to start the third quarter, driving 80 yards on nine plays for a 1-yard Green-Ellis touchdown run that was not in question.
"We had some long drives and some big plays, and we kept scoring points which really helped us out," Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said after completing 24 of 35 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. "Being up 14 going into halftime was big, but we needed to keep it going. The offense did a really good job of being balanced. We had some big runs, and we had some big catches that really helped us win the game."
Dalton threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones on Cincinnati's opening drive and added a 1-yard strike to Jermaine Gresham at the end of the third quarter and a 9-yard toss to A.J. Green at the start of the fourth. The quarterback also scored on an 8-yard run to cap the Bengals' output with 4:03 remaining in the game.
It was the third straight home game with at least 40 points for Cincinnati, and the Bengals improved to 6-0 at Paul Brown Stadium.
It was also the second time in the past three outings that the Colts defense had surrendered at least 40 points.
"It just comes down to all 11 guys being on the same page and doing their job and being consistent," Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said of the defensive breakdowns. "You can credit them. They made some plays. (Giovani) Bernard and Green-Ellis are darn good running backs. They did a nice job."
Bernard, a rookie out of North Carolina, gained 99 yards on 12 carries. Green-Ellis added 48 yards on 17 attempts, and the Bengals chewed up 155 yards on the ground overall.
The Colts also had a pair of young players step up on offense.
Second-year receiver LaVon Brazill and rookie Da'Rick Rogers caught two touchdown passes each as Indianapolis mounted a futile second-half rally.
Rogers, who finished with a team-high six receptions for 107 yards on nine targets, got the Colts on the board with a 69-yard catch and run at the 9:57 mark of the third quarter. Brazill, who caught three passes for 53 yards, followed a little more than three-and-a-half minutes later with a 19-yard catch-and-run on which he broke six tackles.
"I was running with anger there," Brazill said. "Da'Rick Rogers inspired me with his two touchdowns."
Those scores pulled Indianapolis within 21-14 with 6:20 remaining in the third quarter, but the Bengals answered with a 14-0 run to again put the contest out of reach.
Brazill added a 29-yard touchdown reception with 9:48 to play in the fourth quarter, and Rogers scored the game's final points on a 2-yard catch with 1:20 remaining.
Despite the loss, the Colts clinched their first AFC South championship since 2010 when Denver routed Tennessee later in the day.
"We never like to backdoor your way into the playoffs," outside linebacker Robert Mathis said. "You want to get momentum. Get things on the right track and keep things on the right track. I'm not going to sneeze at a division title."