CINCINNATI — The first shutout in 15 years of the Colts left the team on the verge of coming apart at midseason.

Receiver T.Y. Hilton criticized the offensive line and then apologized.

Questions about coach Chuck Pagano’s future in Indianapolis heated up.

Indianapolis responded by pulling together and playing its best game in nearly a month. It still wasn’t enough, leaving the Colts adrift at the halfway point.

Carlos Dunlap’s interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter rallied the Cincinnati Bengals to a 24-23 victory Sunday.

The Colts (2-6) came away with their third straight loss — their deepest slump since 2015 — and a feeling of: What’s next?

“If you don’t give up, it will turn,” Pagano said. “When that is, I don’t have a crystal ball. But if you go the other way, I know what the outcome will be. That’s not this team. They will never do that.”

The Colts have no idea when Andrew Luck will be back from shoulder surgery. They had to shut him down earlier this month because of a setback in his throwing program.

Asked on Sunday if there’s any better idea of when the Colts’ best player might be able to throw again, Pagano simply said, “I don’t know.”

They outplayed the Bengals (3-4) for much of the game, getting constant pressure on Andy Dalton and bottling up Cincinnati’s running game.

The Bengals managed only 58 yards on the ground, and that included Dalton’s 10 yards in scrambles and receiver Alex Erickson’s 14-yard run.

An Indianapolis offense that did next to nothing during a 27-0 loss to Jacksonville a week earlier regained its balance. Jacoby Brissett targeted tight end Jack Doyle on half of his completions, including one of his two touchdown passes. Doyle caught 12 passes for 121 yards. Brissett was 25 of 39 for 233 yards.

Hilton criticized the offensive line after Brissett was sacked 10 times by the Jaguars and hit 20 times overall.

The comments didn’t go over well with teammates, and Hilton apologized. The receiver was targeted seven times on Sunday, but had only two catches for 15 yards.

Hilton was the intended receiver on the ball that Dunlap batted into the air and returned for a touchdown. Hilton also was the target on the Colts’ final play, a fourth down pass that didn’t come close because Brissett was hit as he threw.

“I didn’t play really well, but we still had a chance to win the game,” Hilton said. “I need to make more plays and help us win.”


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