CINCINNATI (AP) – Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson didn’t have to drive to Indianapolis for this lesson. They can’t beat Peyton Manning in a game of one-upmanship.

Manning threw three touchdown passes in an offense that reached the end zone on its first five possessions Sunday, and the Colts stayed unbeaten with a 45-37 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Indianapolis became the 17th team to go 10-0 and the first since Denver in 1998. With the Colts’ defense faltering for the first time, it was up to Manning to protect that perfect record.

The Bengals (7-3) couldn’t stop him until it was too late. Manning went 24-of-40 for 365 yards with one interception, calling plays at the line that more often than not found a soft spot in Cincinnati’s harried defense. Edgerrin James ran for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Johnson gave the Bengals confidence with an early 68-yard touchdown catch.

Harrison had five catches to reach 900 career receptions faster than anyone in NFL history.

And Manning extended his midseason resurgence: 18 touchdown passes in the last seven games.

Johnson backed up his guarantee that the Colts couldn’t cover him. The Pro Bowl receiver had eight catches for a career-high 189 yards. But it wasn’t enough in a game of pinball offense.

Huddles were disregarded and the defenses were flat-out dissed by a pair of quarterbacks who made it look so simple. The first six possessions resulted in five touchdowns, one field goal and two perfect passer ratings.

It was so outrageous that Palmer and some of his teammates laughed in disbelief on the sideline during the closing seconds of the first half.

Manning was flawless on the Colts’ first five possessions. He threw three touchdown passes in an offense that rolled up 301 yards while scoring five touchdowns.

Then the Colts got greedy and made it a game.

Instead of running down the clock and taking a 15-point lead into halftime, they tried to score after getting the ball back at their 28-yard line with 1:25 to go. Manning slipped as he threw a pass, and the ball went directly to Keiwan Ratliff for the Bengals’ NFL-high 21st interception.

Four plays later, Rudi Johnson ran for his second touchdown, cutting it to 35-27 – the second-most points ever in the first half of an NFL game. The Jets and Buccaneers combined for 70 in 1985.

Surely, they couldn’t keep up this pace, could they?

At the start of the second half, they did. Palmer opened with his second touchdown pass, getting the Bengals to within a point. Then the Colts showed their diversity, letting James carry 10 times in a 77-yard touchdown drive.

Which quarterback would blink first?

It was Palmer, who finished 25-of-38 for 335 yards. His only poor throw was picked off by Marlin Jackson, setting up Mike Vanderjagt’s 19-yard field goal for a 45-34 lead with 6:16 to go.

More than enough.

AP-ES-11-20-05 1953EST


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