INDIANAPOLIS – With Peyton Manning struggling to get the ball in the end zone, the Colts won Sunday the old-fashioned way — with defense.
They scored 13 points off five turnovers and got two defensive stops in the final 2 minutes, 40 seconds to hold on for a 23-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
It certainly wasn't pretty.
Manning was 20 of 36 but threw for only 185 yards — his lowest passing total in a game he didn't leave early since Nov. 30, 2008 at Cleveland — and no touchdowns for the second time this season. He finished with a quarterback rating of 69.8 — his worst all season.
But Manning's subpar day didn't matter to the Colts (6-3), who have 19 wins in their past 20 home games and won this game despite playing without eight starters.
There was one reason: Cincinnati's mistakes.
Carson Palmer threw three interceptions, and one of those was returned for a touchdown and a second nearly going for a score.
The Bengals (2-7) also fumbled at the Colts 34 with 2:23 to go, ending their best hope to pull off a comeback.
Cincinnati, the defending AFC North champs, have lost six straight.
And the tone was set early.
After Cincinnati's defense forced Manning to settle for a 28-yard field goal late in the first quarter, the Bengals started bumbling around.
A miscommunication between Palmer and Terrell Owens allowed Kelvin Hayden to make an easy interception and return it 31 yards for a TD that gave the Colts a 10-0 lead with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
Seven plays later, Javarris James scored from 3 yards and it was 17-0.
Just when it looked as if things would be easy for the Colts, Cincinnati pulled it together.
After forcing an Indy punt, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis gambled. On fourth-and-1, he sent punter Kevin Huber onto the field, then yanked him off and put fullback Brian Leonard in the wildcat formation.
Leonard took the snap, found an inside crease and scooted 42 yards to the Colts 34. On the next play, Palmer and Ochocinco hooked up for a TD that was called back because Ochocinco had lined up improperly.
But Ochocinco made amends a few plays later with a nifty double toe-tap on the sideline for a 5-yard TD to get the Bengals within 17-10 with 1:06 to go in the half.
Manning answered by taking the Colts 54 yards and setting up Adam Vinatieri for a 47-yard field goal as time expired.
Indy had appeared to seal the victory after Tyjuan Hagler picked off Palmer and scored on a 45-yard interception return. But the Bengals won a challenge that he had gone down before scoring, putting the ball at the Bengals 10. And again, all the Colts could get was a short Vinatieri field goal.
That's when Cincinnati really put the pressure on
Palmer capped a 73-yard drive with a 19-yard TD pass to Jermaine Gresham with 2:35 left, and had a chance to win it after recovering an onside kick and picking up another 15 yards when Pierre Garcon was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
But on the next play, Gresham caught Palmer's pass, fumbled and the Colts recovered to finally seal it.
Cincinnati got the ball back again with 53 seconds left, but the Colts sacked Palmer twice and Ochocinco dropped a pass on the game's final play.
Palmer finished 31 of 42 for 287 yards with two TD passes and three interceptions.