Jan 5, 2015 3:39 AM

Colts beat Bengals 26-10, get ready for Broncos

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck is eager to get right back to work.

Rather than celebrate Sunday's 26-10 win over Cincinnati, the Colts' quarterback immediately explained he was moving on. And rather than engage in a discussion about another matchup with his predecessor, Peyton Manning, Luck focused on the big picture.

Yes, the third-year quarterback is starting to sound like a seasoned playoff veteran.

"I think we face the Broncos," Luck said when asked about Round 3 with Manning. "It's not the quarterback versus quarterback thing. We're not on the field at the same time. I have a lot of respect for him, what he does, what he still does is amazing. He's a stud. I'll worry about the Denver defense, that's what I worry about."

That's a stark contrast to the Luck of the last two seasons.

After a nine-game turnaround in 2012, they were the AFC's surprise playoff team and subsequently made a first-round exit. Last year, after Luck pulled off a 28-point comeback to beat Kansas City, the Colts were overjoyed. They wound up losing the next week.

This year, Luck and the Colts (12-5) have adopted a business-like approach.

Luck wound up 31 of 44 with 376 yards and finished a playoff game without a turnover for the first time. He also delivered the game-changing 36-yard TD pass as Carlos Dunlap took him to the turf.

Now the Colts have bigger plans.

If Luck beats the Broncos (12-4) on their home turf, something he failed to do in a 31-24 opening-week loss, Indy will face either New England (12-4) or Baltimore (11-6) in the AFC championship game. It won't be easy.

"They're a great football team and obviously they've got a great, great quarterback," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "It's always a huge challenge and at the same time, we're going to embrace the opportunity, embrace the moment. It's exciting, it's fun. It's always a great chess match"

Here are some takeaways from Sunday's game:

IMPERFECT: While Luck played well, the Colts' offense was not flawless. Daniel "Boom" Herron lost one of his two fumbles and Indy was called for nine penalties. Those are two problems that plagued the Colts in November and December. Receiver T.Y. Hilton also dropped a couple of passes that could have put the game away earlier than Adam Vinatieri's two field goals in the final 16 1/2 minutes. Indy must be sharper at Denver.

HISTORIC MISERY: Cincinnati became the first NFL team to lose four consecutive opening-round games. Andy Dalton tied Warren Moon for the most consecutive opening-round playoff losses (four) by a quarterback. Coach Marvin Lewis tied Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Mora and Steven Owen for most consecutive playoff losses (six) by a coach. Lewis also tied Mora, the former Colts coach, for most consecutive playoff losses to start a career, and tied Owen for most consecutive playoff losses with one team. Oh, and the Bengals (10-6-1) haven't won a playoff game in 24 years.

DE-FENSE: The Colts' defense is often overlooked. But Indy has been playing well lately. Against a depleted Bengals offense, the Colts limited Jeremy Hill to 13 carries for 47 yards. Indy also dominated the second half, giving up just 98 total yards and five first downs to the Bengals.

LOWERING THE BOOM: Despite the fumbles, Herron had a career day. He ran 12 times for 56 yards and scored on a 1-yard TD run while catching 10 passes for 85 yards. He has clearly supplanted Trent Richardson as the starter. Pagano said Richardson, who was almost invisible because an illness kept him out of practice Friday and Saturday, may have a bigger role next week.

ROAD WOES: Struggles on the road are common in the playoffs. Luck is 0-2 in his career, Cincinnati is 0-7 all-time and Indy has lost its last three playoff games away from home. The Colts' last win was 15-6 at Baltimore in January 2007, a game with no touchdowns that helped spur their championship run.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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