(Reuters) - Quarterback Andrew Luck led the Indianapolis Colts to a 26-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC wildcard game on Sunday to set up a divisional round clash with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Luck, who was drafted to replace Manning at the Colts, threw for 376 yards and one touchdown on 31 of 44 passing in a game in which the Colts rarely looked in danger of losing.
The Indianapolis quarterback was particularly impressive on a 36-yard pass on the run to Donte Moncrief for a decisive third quarter touchdown as the Colts prepared to meet the Broncos for the second time this season next Sunday.
Denver won the first matchup 31-24 at home in the season-opener.
”He was outstanding,“ said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said of Luck. ”He just took what they gave him. He did a great job, he bought time. The one magical play to Moncrief was Andrew at his finest.
“He is a maestro back there, he is unbelievable. He made great decisions today and made them all day long and it was a great game for him,” added the Colts coach.
The Bengals have not won a playoff game since the 1990 season and have now lost in the wildcard round for the past four years.
“You are going to be judged on what you do in the playoffs and we haven’t won yet,” said quarterback Andy Dalton, who was played in all four of those wildcard losses.
“We are going to do everything we can to figure out how to get over this hump”.
Cincinnati were without two of their main receivers with wideout A.J. Green ruled out with concussion and tight end Jermaine Gresham missing with a back injury and without those targets Dalton struggled.
But while that impacted the Bengals on offense, the game was dictated by the calm, efficient and on occasion, inspired play of Luck.
Indianapolis set the tone with the first drive of the game – the confident Luck marching 71 yards on nine plays ending with a two-yard touchdown run from back Dan Herron.
Cincinnati responded strongly with a one-yard run from Jeremy Hill finishing off a 74-yard drive from the visitors.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri converted two field goals in the second quarter with Mike Nugent replying for the Bengals with a 57-yard kick that flew in off the post to hold the Indianapolis advantage at halftime to 13-10.
Luck extended that lead in the third quarter with the inspired pass, on the move, to Moncrief in the end zone.
The Colts thought they had another touchdown when Luck found Coby Fleener but a penalty for an illegal block in the back wiped out the score and Indianapolis settled for another field goal from the 42-year-old Vinatieri.
The Bengals offense was unable to progress, failing to make a first down in the entire third quarter.
Another Vinatieri field goal, in the fourth, pushed the Colts well beyond a Bengals team that never looked capable of launching a comeback.
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami,; Editing by Steve Keating/Gene Cherry