CINCINNATI – Just when you think there’s no hope for the Bengals, NFL schedule makers throw you a bone.
Welcome, Indianapolis Colts. Step right up and match your lousy offensive line with ours.
But the Colts (2-5) have even bigger problems that the Bengals (2-4) do.
While the Bengals got shut out in the second half Sunday, the Colts got shut out for the whole game.
While the Bengals gave up six sacks, the Colts gave up 10.
While QB Andrew Luck tries to heal the shoulder problems that have kept him out all season, there's no reason to hope things will get better.
A 27-0 home loss to the Jaguars left Colts coach Chuck Pagano facing his greatest challenge – ignoring the outside chatter about his job status and keeping his team together.
"We're not worried about anything other than Cincinnati and what we put out there yesterday (for the fans)," he said Monday. "They deserve better and we're going to do everything we can to do better."
Jacksonville exposed many flaws in Pagano’s team as it dealt the Colts their first regular-season shutout in 375 games dating back to 1993.
(Well, OK, so the Bengals got shut out six weeks ago.)
The Colts' offensive line, without three projected starters in the second half, allowed seven sacks in the final 25 minutes. Jacksonville finished with 20 quarterback hits to go with 10 sacks, the most ever permitted in a single game in the franchise's Indianapolis era.
Indy's offense finished with a paltry 232 yards, and the defense wasn't much better.
Blake Bortles threw for a season-high 330 yards by hitting big play after big play and the Jaguars managed to rush for 188 yards even with Leonard Fournette, the league's No. 2 rusher, inactive because of a sprained right ankle.
Things got so ugly Colts players were showered with boos when the first half ended and again during a miserable second half as the number of empty seats steadily increased.
Then the real trouble began.
Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton urged the offensive line to take "some pride up front and block more," demonstrating a rare fissure in a usually unified locker room. His comment didn't go over well with his teammates.
On Monday, after meeting with Pagano, Hilton backtracked and apologized.
"I love them to death, and I was wrong. I'm always against that, and then I go out there and do it," Hilton said. "I'll approach them individually, one-on-one, and just let them know that I was 100 percent dead wrong."
Other solutions will be just as difficult to find.
With Indy two games out of the division lead and facing a two-game road trip, fans are calling for Pagano's ouster with play-calling among their top complaints.
The latest criticism came after emergency QB Jacoby Brissett was stopped short of a first down on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-2 from the Jaguars 6, ending Indy's best scoring chance. Pagano explained that's not how the play was designed and blamed himself for the miscue — even though it came after a timeout.
"Just a communication breakdown," he said. "It's bad, bad ball."
Then there are injuries.
Luck will not throw again this week after being temporarily shut down last week because of soreness in his surgically repaired throwing shoulder.
As feared, the rookie season of promising safety Malik Hooker is over after he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Indy's first-round draft pick was tied for third in the NFL with three interceptions, and his absence leaves a gaping hole in an already undermanned secondary.
Inside linebacker John Simon (stinger) and cornerback Rashaan Melvin (concussion), both starters, may not be available for the Bengals game.
Colts center Ryan Kelly, a former Cincinnati high school star from Lakota West, left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury but is expected to practice Wednesday.