Colts’ game plan perfect for Bengals

Published 1:17 am Monday, December 8, 2008

Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden had a perfect read on the Cincinnati Bengals.

Peyton Manning apparently was doing his homework, too.

Manning threw for three scores Sunday and Hayden returned an interception for a touchdown, leading the Colts to their most lopsided win of the season, 35-3.

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‘‘We did a great job game planning, and we knew their quarterback would get rattled if we got some pressure,’’ Hayden said. ‘‘I just tried to take advantage of it.’’

Did he ever.

Hayden picked off two passes, setting up one Indy touchdown and returning the second 85 yards for another.

Manning also exploited the big holes in Cincinnati’s defense. His uncanny mixture of methodical drives and quick-hitting plays were too much for the beleaguered Bengals, and after failing to score an offensive touchdown last week at Cleveland, Manning led the Colts on three TD drives of 69 yards or longer.

It was a stark contrast from what Indy (9-4) had done in its previous five games — winning those by a combined 20 points. No. 6 looked like old-fashioned Colts football.

While Sunday’s victory kept the Colts in position for the top wild-card spot in the AFC, their reign atop the AFC South officially ended with Tennessee’s 28-9 victory over Cleveland. It’s the first time since 2002 Indy hasn’t won the division crown.

‘‘The first thing is you have to get in the playoffs,’’ coach Tony Dungy said. ‘‘The year we won it, we played three on the road. So if we get in, I think we’ll have as good a shot as anyone.’’

If they keep playing this way, they could.

Then again, Sunday’s rout didn’t give the Colts much of a test.

For the second straight week, the only Bengals points came on Shayne Graham’s lone field goal, and they have gone 11 consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown.