When the word “rivalry” comes up in connection with the Cincinnati Bengals, people automatically think of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Or the Baltimore Ravens. Or even the Cleveland Browns.
But the closest geographical rival for the Bengals is the Indianapolis Colts, who visit Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday for a game that Cincinnati absolutely must win to retain any hope of salvaging its season.
Cincinnati and Indianapolis are separated by a distance of only 110 miles, making this the shortest geographical rivalry in the AFC. Pittsburgh and Cleveland are both 137 miles from Cincinnati.
The Bengals and the Colts have played in the preseason every year since 1992, with the exception of 2000. All 25 preseason games have taken place since the Colts moved to Indianapolis from Baltimore.
Indianapolis holds a 19-10 advantage over the Bengals in the regular season, including a 2-0 edge in the postseason. Cincinnati owned a record of 4-5 against the Colts when they were in Baltimore, and had won three of the last four meetings.
Without a doubt, one of the more exciting games ever played between the two teams came in 2005, when Indianapolis won a shootout against the Bengals by a score of 45-37 in a game that featured over 950 yards of offense.
Cincinnati’s dynamic duo of Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson had visited Indianapolis in the offseason to learn how the combination of Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison worked together, and apparently learned their lessons well. Palmer and Johnson teamed up for eight receptions for 189 yards and a touchdown.
Manning, meanwhile, spread the ball around to Harrison and Dallas Clark, as both managed over 115 yards receiving. The Colts scored the first five times they touched the ball, and held off a furious rally by the Bengals that eventually saw Cincinnati pull to within a point at 35-34. The game ended after the Bengals failed to recover an onsides kick.
The teams engaged in another high-scoring affair in 2013, with the Bengals coming out on top that time. Cincinnati jumped out to a 21-0 lead after a one-yard scoring run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but the Colts battled back behind the strong right arm of quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck’s 19-yard touchdown pass to LaVon Brazill with 6:30 left in the third quarter closed the gap to 21-14, but Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton took over from there.
Dalton finished the day with 24 completions on 35 attempts for 275 yards and three touchdowns, and an overall rating of 120.5. A.J. Green had six receptions for 72 yards and a score and Marvin Jones had three catches for 60 yards, including a 29-yard scoring reception.
Green-Ellis had 48 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including a controversial score on a play that was initially ruled down by contact, but was later overturned despite video evidence that appeared to indicate he had been tripped up short of the goal line. Giovani Bernard contributed 99 yards on the ground on just 12 carries.
With Luck now on the sidelines, and probably lost for the season, the Bengals have a perfect opportunity to right the ship Sunday afternoon. But Cincinnati will need to find some stability in its ground game, and get Green much more involved in the offense if it hopes to pick up its second win of the season at Paul Brown Stadium, and third overall.
Not only are the teams close geographically, but they feature more than the usual number of connections. Probably the most obvious connection is Margus Hunt, a second-round selection of the Bengals in the 2013 NFL Draft who played his first four seasons in Cincinnati. Hunt moved on to the Colts in free agency. Hunt opened with a sack in his first game this year, but has been quiet since.
Center Ryan Kelly, who is questionable to play this week with a variety of injuries, hails from Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio. And then there is the Ohio State connection. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, safety Malik Hooker (who is out for the season with a torn ACL/MCL), outside linebacker John Simon (who is questionable with a stinger), tackle/guard Jack Mewhort (who was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury) and practice squad linebacker Josh Perry all played for the Buckeyes. Mewhort’s hometown is Toledo, Ohio, where he attended St. John’s Jesuit High School, and Perry graduated from Olentangy High School in Galena, Ohio.
Three Colts, Tyreek Burwell, Deyshawn Bond and George Winn, played at the University of Cincinnati and their linebacker coach, Jim Herrmann, was born in the Queen City. Outside linebacker Tarell Basham attended Ohio University.
Like Mewhort, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski also attended Toledo’s St. John’s Jesuit High School. Assistant offensive line coach Joe Gilbert coached at the University of Toledo, while assistant head coach Joe Philbin is a former Ohio University coach.
And the connections work both ways. Bengals’ tight end Tyler Eifert is from Fort Wayne, Indiana and played at Notre Dame, as did cornerback KeiVarae Russell. Defensive line coach Marcus Lewis played at Indiana State University, a school where running backs coach Kyle Caskey previously coached.