Traditionally speaking, the fourth preseason game of the year is designed to highlight players fighting for their NFL lives in the biggest test of tests. Most of Cincinnati's first-team offense and defense were pulled by the second possession, giving Cincinnati a 7-3 boost early in the first quarter. Indianapolis didn't even bother starting most of their first-teamers, but that didn't prohibit their opening possession, generating 56 yards on 12 plays. But Cincinnati's defense tightened up and held Indianapolis to a 43-yard field goal.
Andy Dalton and the first team offense countered with a 46-yard possession on seven plays, capped by Giovani Bernard's one-yard touchdown with John Conner and Orson Charles blocking for the rookie. Cincinnati ran the football six times on seven plays during their lone possession, using the pass once to convert a third and two on a quick-out to Mohamed Sanu from the slot. Following a broken tackle, Sanu gained 18 yards to the Colts seven-yard line. A couple of runs and a defensive pass interference later, Bernard scored his third rushing touchdown of the preseason to give Cincinnati a 7-3 lead.
Good night, starters. Nice knowing you. Unfortunately, the Bengals couldn't escape clean. Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was carted off the field with a shoulder injury with over five minutes remaining in the first during an awkward tackle on a third down run by Donald Brown. The injury list grow later in the game when offensive linemen Reid Fragel and Mike Pollak suffered second half knee injuries.
Defensively, the Bengals with backup defensive linemen and linebackers joined by third-team cornerbacks (thanks to injuries at cornerback with Brandon Ghee and Dre Kirkpatrick) were far more stingy than their first-team counterparts, holding Indianapolis to three punts and a missed field goal to close out the first half.
Josh Johnson, on the other hand, scored ten points on four possessions, applying the team's powerful rushing philosophy and even scrambling on his own for 38 yards rushing. If this kid ever becomes more efficient as a passer, he could be a deadly NFL quarterback.
By this point in the game, the true value of the preseason finale takes shape. Bubble players were being featured and even those dealing with various injuries are getting a little more work.
Despite losing a fumble in the second quarter, Cedric Peerman picked up 37 yards on six carries. Daniel Herron gave Cincinnati breathing room, breaking through the line of scrimmage (he seriously had no resistance anyway) from their own nine to the 29-yard line prior to the two minute warning in the first quarter. George Iloka recorded three first half tackles while Ryan Whalen and Cobi Hamilton posted impressive third down conversions for 16 and 18 yards respectively.
Linebacker J.K. Schaffer added an argument for the 53-man roster (with a greater impact after the uncertain nature of Lamur's injury), with a third quarter interception, his first this preseason and second for the Bengals. Then Rex Burkhead made his strongest argument yet, converting a fourth down with a two-yard run, followed by a third down conversion with a ten-yard reception and scoring a touchdown on the following play with 5:27 remaining in the third -- his first of the preseason. In summary, Schaffer's interception led to a Burkhead touchdown. Schaffer finished second with six tackles behind Jayson DiManche, who generated a team-high seven.
Despite the lack of overall production for Burkhead on the stat sheet, his runs had a greater impact with two fourth down conversions, a third down reception that converted a third and ten, and a touchdown. He added a 20-yard run on the final play of the preseason. Daniel Herron made a tremendous argument with 51 yards rushing. As a team, the Bengals generated 191 yards rushing led by Herron and Burkhead.
The Bengals have until 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Saturday to make 22 transactions to get within the league-mandated 53-man roster.
INJURIES: Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Dre Kirkpatrick, Brandon Ghee, Andrew Hawkins, Bernard Scott, Carlos Dunlap were on the unexpected to play to list. Lamur suffered a shoulder injury and was carted off midway through the first and Reid Fragel was taken to the lockerroom with a possible knee issue. Mike Pollak also came out in the second half with a knee injury.
CAPTAINS: Anthony Collins, Clint Boling, Terence Newman, Vontaze Burfict, and Brandon Tate. Bengals won the toss, but elected to defer.