INDIANAPOLIS — The Cincinnati Bengals avoided a problem that has hindered their playoff aspirations during Sam Wyche's tenure as coach--losing the season opener.
With Boomer Esiason passing for two touchdowns and the Bengals' defense coming up with two fourth-quarter interceptions, Cincinnati beat the Indianapolis Colts, 23-21, to win its first opener since 1982.
Since Wyche became their coach in 1984, the Bengals have failed to make the playoffs by one game in each of the three seasons.
"We seemed to move the ball well, but the defense kept us in the game, along with special teams," he said. "I said at the beginning that the special teams will decide this game. Believe me, they did."
Esiason completed 17 of 26 passes for 236 yards, including touchdown passes of 61 yards to tight end Rodney Holman and 18 yards to running back James Brooks, who also scored on a 1-yard run with 7:50 remaining to give Cincinnati a 23-14 lead.
The Bengals, who had the NFL's most productive offense last season, finished with 403 yards of total offense.
On defense, safety Robert Jackson stopped two Indianapolis drives with interceptions, one late in each half, and a fourth-quarter interception by fellow safety David Fulcher set up the Bengals' final touchdown.
"Fulcher and Jackson made key interceptions for us and our defense played beautifully," Wyche said. "Our defense and special teams kept us in the game. Our offense will need to score a few more points."
Jackson intercepted a pass from Jack Trudeau at the Cincinnati 37-yard line with 1:12 to play to seal the Colts' fourth straight season-opening defeat.
"What do I say? It hurts. It cost us a chance to win the game," said Trudeau, 0-12 as an NFL starting quarterback. "I read the defense one way and my receiver read it another. It was my mistake for not throwing the ball away."
Brooks' deciding touchdown came after Fulcher's interception and 28-yard return.
Trudeau, playing in place of Gary Hogeboom, who suffered a preseason hand injury, completed 13 of 23 passes for 206 yards and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Tim Sherwin with 2:33 left. Cincinnati recovered the ensuing onside kick but could not run out the clock. However, Jackson's second interception settled the outcome.
"We played an outstanding game, although execution in several areas was lacking," Colt Coach Ron Meyer said. "Our defense slugged it out, but the big turnovers were just that--very, very big."