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THE NFL / 1996

Colts' Playoff Home Is on Road

AFC: Indianapolis loses chance to play host to a postseason game by losing to Cincinnati, 31-24.

December 23, 1996|From Associated Press

CINCINNATI — The most disappointed playoff team? Without question it's the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts blew a chance to clinch home-field advantage for their first-round playoff game Sunday. A 31-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals sent the Colts to begin the playoffs where they ended them last season: Pittsburgh.

The Colts (9-7) were all but assured of a wild-card berth when the game started. They clinched it when Buffalo defeated Kansas City, although the players weren't sure what was next when they walked off the field.

"I came in here thinking we were out of it," said Aaron Bailey, who returned a kickoff 95 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown. "When coach told us we were in it, it brought a new life to everyone."

The Colts have not made back-to-back playoff appearances since 1975-77, when they were in Baltimore and Art Modell's team was still in Cleveland. Last year, they beat San Diego and Kansas City on the road before losing the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh.

The Bengals opened the season 1-6 under Dave Shula, but won seven of their final nine under Bruce Coslet to finish 8-8. Coslet has won a four-year contract extension and revived a city that was apathetic during Shula's troubled tenure.

Asked how meaningful a break-even record is, Coslet said: "Not very, but under the circumstances unbelievable."

The teams traded identical scores right up to the closing minutes, when the Colts had a chance to match Cincinnati's final touchdown. They went for it on fourth and three at the Cincinnati 19-yard line and came up short. Jim Harbaugh threw a pass to a diving Marvin Harrison, who caught the ball a yard short of the first-down marker with 2:44 to play.

The Colts got the ball back at their 20-yard line with only 23 seconds left and no timeouts. The regular season then ended for the Colts the way their playoffs did--on a last-play desperate pass that came up short.

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, field goals in the second and touchdowns into the third, resulting in a 17-17 tie.

Harbaugh completed his first 10 passes and finished 23 for 33 for 244 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

The Bengals' Jeff Blake was 22 for 37 for 284 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Garrison Hearst carried 17 times for 93 yards, the best game by a Bengal running back since Harold Green gained 190 yards on Dec. 29, 1992.

"I just feel bad for the people in Indianapolis that maybe could have seen a home game next week," Colt Coach Lindy Infante said.

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