Prior to the start of Sunday’s game, there was a sign hanging in the upper deck of Paul Brown Stadium that read “Hope is not a plan.”
The sign was gone by kickoff.
The hope still remains thanks to Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, whose 16-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:58 remaining lifted the Bengals to a 24-23 victory before 57,901 fans.
Dunlap’s play, which came after he deflected a Jacoby Brissett pass at the line of scrimmage, plucked the ball out of the air and broke an ankle tackle on his way to the end zone, plastered a thick coat of makeup on an otherwise ugly performance by the Bengals, who improved to 3-4.
“It was a good job winning the football game,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “The game didn’t unfold the way I wanted it to, or expected, but give them credit for doing a good job. We kept overcoming ourselves throughout the day today, and obviously there at the end with Carlos and the return That’s what happens. Everybody plays their tail off to win and today we made plays when we needed to down the stretch.”
The Colts (2-6) came into the game with the 31st-ranked defense in the league, but they held Cincinnati to 58 rushing yards while sacking quarterback Andy Dalton three times.
Dalton completed 17 of 29 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which was a 25-yarder to rookie Josh Malone to give the Bengals a 17-13 lead with 9:10 left in the third quarter.
It was the first career touchdown for Malone, a fourth-round pick out of Tennessee who had two receptions for 35 yards and was more heavily involved in the game plan than first-round pick John Ross, who played for the first time since Week 2 and finished with no catches on one target.
Indianapolis went back in front on its next drive, capping the march with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Brissett to rookie running Marlon Mack. Then the Colts converted a Joe Mixon fumble into Adam Vinatieri’s third field goal, a 29-yarder that pushed the lead to 23-17 with 11:21 remaining.
The Colts defense came up with another stop to get the ball back with 7:40 to go and a chance to take a two-score lead, but Brissett’s pass on second down ended up in the hands of Dunlap and, eventually, in the end zone for a season-saving touchdown for the Bengals.
The Indianapolis defense held Cincinnati to 6 yards on its final possession to get the ball back for Brissett, who drove the Colts to the Cincinnati 48 before a Carl Lawson sack on second down and a Chris Smith quarterback hit on fourth down forced an incompletion sealed the win.
The Bengals will try to get back to .500 next week when they begin a three-game road trip at Jacksonville.