CINCINNATI (AP) - Coming off a four-win season and an overhaul that left them extremely young on offense, the Cincinnati Bengals realized nobody expected much out of them.
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The NFL's top-ranked defense held on for a 27-17 win Sunday that sent the Bengals (4-2) into their bye week with as many victories as they had all last season and a growing feeling that they could become one of the league's biggest surprises.
``I feel we can be as good as we want to be,' said defensive end Carlos Dunlap, whose 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown clinched it. ``We've got the guys in place to go as far as we want to go.'
Nobody expected the Colts to be in their spot, either.
Indianapolis opened the season with Super Bowl aspirations, along with questions about Peyton Manning's neck. Manning has been forced to watch from the sideline as the winless Colts fall apart - they are 0-6 for only the fifth time in franchise history.
``We're close,' linebacker Pat Angerer said. ``We're not a bad team. We've got great players. We're not getting blown out. It's just a little thing here or there.'
And big problems in the second half.
Two weeks earlier, Tampa Bay scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally for a 24-17 win over the Colts. Then, Kansas City scored three straight touchdowns to pull out a 28-24 win. This time, Indianapolis blew chances to catch up.
Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton put together an impressive performance against the Colts' hard-charging defense. He was 25 of 32 for 264 yards and one touchdown without a sack, completing 13 straight throws over one stretch. His poise on the run helped the Bengals pull ahead 20-7 in the second half.
Curtis Painter rallied Indianapolis, getting the Colts in range for Adam Vinatieri's 52-yard field goal try to tie it with 5:38 left. Cornerback Nate Clements came around the end of the line and swatted it away.
After the Bengals missed a field goal attempt, the Colts had one more chance. Painter completed a pass to Pierre Garcon, who was stripped of the ball as he tried to get a few extra yards while being tackled. The ball flew directly to Dunlap, who outran the Colts' offensive linemen for the clinching score.
The fumble ruling was upheld on review.
``I thought I was down,' Garcon said. ``Having it come down to that play, it's tough. It's the same story - we've got to finish games off. We're close, but things happen.'
Bad things, that is.
``Each game, we're in it in the fourth quarter and something happens,' defensive back Jerraud Powers said. ``Something dramatic happens.'
By contrast, things are going the Bengals' way.
They ended a seven-game losing streak against the Colts - Manning is 7-0 against them - and headed into their bye week with their first three-game winning streak since 2009. They're not drawing much of a crowd - only 52,068 tickets were sold for Sunday's game on a sunny, warm afternoon, leaving more than 13,000 empty seats at Paul Brown Stadium.
Still, it was by far the biggest home crowd of the season.
``Coming into the season, we weren't getting much credit,' Dalton said. ``As a team, we have the attitude that we're going to go out and prove everyone wrong. We've played well, and we've been in every game we've played.'
Notes: The Colts' other comparable starts: 1997 (0-10), 1991 (0-9), 1986 (0-13) and 1982 (0-6). The Colts were without injured RB Joseph Addai and LT Anthony Castonzo, forcing them to scramble their offensive line. ... Painter was 23 of 34 for 188 yards with his first interception in 115 attempts. ... LB A.J. Edds left the game in the third quarter and was evaluated for a possible concussion. ... Bengals K Mike Nugent missed from 43 yards into a swirling wind, snapping his streak of 13 straight field goals to start the season.
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