Bengal Bungle: Colts Drop Opener

In 1995, when the internet was young, I was a sports reporter for WRTV-TV in Indianapolis, Indiana and covered the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. In addition to my normal TV duties, I was also putting regular team news and updates online in a rudimentary website, which you’d recognize today as a blog. Those files survive, and I’m reproducing them here for posterity.

Mistakes Doom Colts in Opener

INDIANAPOLIS (Sept.3, 1995) – The blue uniform pants were new; the guys wearing them looked like the same old Colts.

Neither one was very pretty.

The “new look” Colts continued the underachieving ways of so many of the past 11 Indianapolis teams on Sunday, dropping a 24-21 overtime decision to the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener for both teams.

A crowd of 42,445, the second-smallest non-strike gathering ever at the RCA Dome, watched the Colts fall behind 21-13, then rally behind backup quarterback Jim Harbaugh for a touchdown and two-point conversion with three seconds left to send the game to overtime. Doug Pelfrey’s fifth field goal of the game, a 47-yarder with 2:36 gone in the extra session, gave Cincinnati its first win in September since game two of the 1992 season.

Same old Colts?

“That’s what you guys have written,” said Head Coach Ted Marchibroda after the game,” and I guess maybe for the first ballgame you can say that. But I’m glad I’m playing with these Colts, and I’m not playing with the old Colts.”

“These Colts” looked worthy of all the preseason praise after a crisp, 12-play, 78-yard opening drive. QB Craig Erickson completed all four of his passes on the march, capping it with a 16-yard touchdown throw to Flipper Anderson.

The TD pass was Erickson’s first as a Colt, but it would be his last moment of glory on this afternoon.

Two plays after Anderson’s catch, the Colts had the ball right back. Bengals’ QB Jeff Blake hit TE Tony McGee down the right sideline, but McGee coughed up the ball when hit by Jeff Herrod and Ray Buchanan recovered at the Colt 22.

Erickson tried to hit Anderson on the second play, but LB Andre Collins dropped back into the zone and picked off the pass at the Colt 37. The turnover led to Pelfrey’s first field goal, a 25-yarder, making it 7-3.

Five plays into the next Colt possession, the turnover bug bit again: SS Bracey Walker intercepted an Erickson pass intended for TE Ken Dilger and returned it 22 yards to the Colt 49. It took Blake just 6 plays to reach the end zone from there, with 6-2 WR Carl Pickens outleaping 5-9 FS Jason Belser for the 3 yard touchdown catch that put Cincinnati in front 10-7.

The teams traded field goals before the half, and Cincinnati went to the locker room up 13-10.

They increased the edge to 16-10 on Pelfrey’s third field goal, then went up 18-10 on a freak safety: with Erickson standing deep in his own endzone in shotgun formation on 3rd and 8, the snap from C Kirk Lowdermilk squirted through his hands and out of the end zone for two points.

“I’ve gotta come up with it,” said Erickson afterwards, refusing to alibi for the mishap. “It was probably a combination of a lot of things. Maybe the crowd noise got to us a little bit down there, but there’s really no excuse for it. To have it happen, and be the difference in the game is pretty tough.”

The Bengals added another field goal after the safety to take a 21-10 lead, before Erickson, who had thrown his third interception to halt a Colt drive in the third quarter, guided the offense to a 40-yard field goal by Mike Cofer to cut the deficit to 21-13 with 13:02 to play. It would be Erickson’s last effort on the afternoon.

When the offense returned to the field with 11:15 to play, Harbaugh was at the controls, and the sparse crowd roared its approval for the first time since the opening quarter.

“I’ve been in it long enough to know as a starter that everybody seems to like the backup a little bit more,” said Harbaugh, who led the Colts to a pair of come-from-behind preseason wins.

FB Roosevelt Potts burst up the middle for 37 of his team-high 73 yards on Harbaugh’s first snap. Five plays later, the Colts faced second and seven at the Bengal 21. LDE John Copeland stormed through the line to pressure Harbaugh, who quickly tried to flip a pass to Potts in the right flat. It fell incomplete, and a flag flew immediately.

Walt Coleman, refereeing his first regular-season NFL game after six years as a Line Judge, flagged Harbaugh for intentional grounding. The 15-yard penalty proved fatal, as Cofer missed a 42-yard attempt with 6:16 left that would have made it a 21-16 game.

“I think (the call) was just horrible,” moaned Harbaugh.” I’m telling you, honestly, that I was not trying to ground that ball. I was trying to get it to Potts, but the guy had me wrapped up, and I’m trying to throw it while he’s taking me to the turf. I don’t know how an official can expect you to make a perfect pass when someone is hanging on you like that. I thought that was just an awful call.”

The defense held, and Harbaugh took over at his own 32 with 3:42 left. He scrambled for one first down on a third and 11 play, but faced a fourth and 19 at the Colt 43 with :59 left. with his first two receivers covered, Harbaugh found Marshall Faulk with a 34-yard pass down to the Bengal 23. Faulk did a miraculous job to get both feet down before going out of bounds with 52 ticks left on the clock.

“I had it in the back of my mind that he was about the only guy that could get us a first down,” recalled Harbaugh.

“I ran my route to get open,” said Faulk, tersely. “That happened and Jimmy found me.”

Harbaugh then found RB Lamont Warren twice to get the ball to the Bengal five with 11 seconds left. After an incomplete pass, Harbaugh dropped back into the shotgun one more time with seven seconds to play.

“My first two looks were covered,” said Harbaugh. “I just scrambled up a little bit to my left—thought about running it in—and then all of a sudden I saw Flipper, and he just kept busy and kept working and he got open.”

Harbaugh flipped the ball to Anderson for the score, then rolled right and found Floyd Turner for the two-point conversion, the first in Colts history, to square things at 21.

The Bengals won the overtime toss (breaking a streak of four straight OT coin toss wins by the Colts) and drove for the game-winner, helped by a 34-yard pass interference penalty against LCB Ray Buchanan.

Blake threw deep down the right sideline from his own 33, and Buchanan, the football, and Pickens converged at the same spot at the Colt 33. Replays showed Buchanan’s left arm coming up and under Pickens’ to knock the ball away. There was contact, but it appeared as though Buchanan’s head was turned back toward the throw, playing the ball. Still, Back Judge Van Golmont threw the flag, and Buchanan threw a fit.

“I felt like I hit the ball cleanly, and the ref made a bad call,” said Buchanan afterwards. “I’m looking back at the ball…it was anyone’s ball. I’m like a wide receiver if I’m turned around looking at the ball. They made a bad call, and we lost the game.”

Not until four plays and four yards later, when Pelfrey’s kick ended it.

“All I was thinking (was) just get the ball across the 50,” said Pelfrey, whose five-for-five day was one off his club record of six-for-six set last year. “Let’s just get it in range, let’s just kick it and go home.”

They did, he did, and the Bengals went home euphoric after breaking an NFL-record 20-game September/October losing streak.

The Colts went home with groans from the crowd loud in their ears, while the whispers of a quarterback controversy began.

“Erickson will start next week,” said Marchibroda. “Jimmy did the job that he’s supposed to do: if the guy who’s starting isn’t playing that well, he’s supposed to come in and be the relief pitcher, and he did a hell of a job.”

“There’s obviously three balls I’d like to have back,” said Erickson in summing up his performance. “You don’t mean to throw them, it’s just a combination of pretty good plays, and bad decisions on my part.”

“Craig’s the starter,” added Harbaugh, philosophically. “He’s done a good job, and he’s earned that position, and he’s going to have to be ready to come back next week.”

But can the Colts come back after blowing a game they could have, and should have, won?

“We’re one down,” said Marchibroda,” and it’s a long season. I’ll remember what you said (about the ‘same old Colts’), and I may remind you of what you said.

That may happen, but no one will want to be reminded of Sunday’s ugly scene anytime soon.

SCORING SUMMARY

1st2nd3rd4thOTFinal
Cincinnati31080324
Indianapolis73011021

TEAMQTRELAPSEDSCORING PLAYPLAYS/YDS/TIMESCORE
IND18:08Anderson 16 pass from Erickson (Cofer kick)12/ 78/ 8:080-7
CIN112:19FG Pelfrey 258/ 30/ 2:413-7
CIN22:19Pickens 3 pass from Blake (Pelfrey kick)6/ 49/ 2:2010-7
IND210:13FG Cofer 2716/ 61/ 7:5410-10
CIN214:05FG Pelfrey 44 10/ 55/ 1:4413-10
CIN34:14FG Pelfrey 329/ 59/ 4:1416-10
CIN311:04Safety, ball snapped out of end zone18-10
CIN314:03FG Pelfrey 386/ 26/ 2:5921-10
IND41:58FG Cofer 407/ 41/ 2:5521-13
IND414:57Anderson 5 pass from Harbaugh (Turner pass from Harbaugh)14/ 68/ 3:3921-21
CINOT2:36FG Pelfrey 476/ 54/ 2:3624-21

Attendance:42,445

FINAL TEAM STATISTICS

STATISTICCOLTSBENGALS
1st Downs2418
By Rushing96
By Passing1411
By Penalty11
3rd Down Eff.%9-19-47%0-9-0%
4th Down Eff.%3-3-100%0-0-0%
Total Net Yards390336
Total Plays7857
Yds. Per Play5.05.9
Net Yds.Rushing14487
Total Rushing Plays3123
Yds.Per Rush4.63.8
Net Yds. Passing246249
Times Sacked/Yards4-360-0
Gross Yds. Passing282249
Passes (A-C-I)43-28-334-19-0
Yds.Per Pass Play5.27.3
Punts-# and Avg.1-554-39
# Blocked00
FG’s-PATs had blocked0-00-0
Punt Returns-Yds.0-00-0
Kickoff Returns-Yds.5-1687-143
Interception Returns-Yds.0-03-28
Penalties-Yds.4-645-30
Fumbles-Lost3-01-1
Touchdowns21
TDs Rushing00
TDs Passing21
TDs Misc.00
PATs Made-Att.2-21-1
PAT Kicks Made-Att.1-11-1
PAT Runs/Passes Made-Att.1-10-0
FG’s Made-Att.2-30-0
Safeties01
Final Score2124
Time of Possession38:3723:59

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

COLTS RUSHING: Potts 9-73, 37 lg; Faulk 19-49, 11 lg; Harbaugh 2-22, 11 lg; Erickson 1-0.
BENGALS RUSHING: Green 17-65, 11 lg: Blake 1-14, Joseph 3-9, 8 lg; Cothran 1-2, Hill 1-(-3).

COLTS PASSING: Erickson 19-31-3, 196 yds, 1 td, 19 lg; Harbaugh 9-13-0, 86 yds, 1td, 34 lg.
BENGALS PASSING: Blake 19-33-0, 249 yds, 1 td, 41 lg; Bienemy 0-1-0.

COLTS RECEIVING: Anderson 6-67, 19 lg, 2td; Warren 6-50, 12 lg; Turner 5-44, 17 lg; Faulk 3-41, 34 lg; Dawkins 3-24, 14 lg; Arbuckle 2-23, 12 lg; Potts 1-17, Stablein 1-12, Dilger 1-4.
BENGALS RECEIVING: McGee 6-118, 41 lg; Scott 5-68, 26 lg; Pickens 5-39, 10 lg, 1td; Green 2-22, 14 lg; Joseph 1-2.

GAME NOTES: The only non-strike Dome crowd smaller than Sunday’s was the 38,458 for last season’s finale against Buffalo…Cincinnati was 0-9 on third down conversions, the first time since 9/26/93 (when Cleveland went 0-10) that the Colts held an opponent without a third-down conversion…the Colts targeted WR Flipper Anderson 11 times (he caught 6)…the time of possession in the first half: Colts 21:44, Bengals 8:16; in the second half: Colts 16:53, Bengals 15:43…Marshall Faulk has had two of his three worst rushing games as a pro against Cincinnati: Sunday’s 19 carry, 49 yard effort was third worst, with last season’s 16 for 28 outing at Riverfront Stadium the worst…Colts captains were Will Wolford and Kirk Lowdermilk(offense), Jeff Herrod and Tony Bennett(defense), and Derwin Gray(special teams)…QB Paul Justinand OL’s Kipp Vickers and Shawn Harper were the only players who dressed who did not see action…Colt inactives:WR Wendell Davis, DB Conrad Clarks, LB Glen Sanders, OT Derek West, WR Aaron Bailey, LB Steve Morrison, and DE Thomas McLemore.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch

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