Cincinnati had zero interest in playing their starters during Thursday's preseason finale in Indianapolis. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis ranted during his pregame speech, singling out players on the bubble advising that many "aren't just playing for a spot on the roster", but also for a spot on another roster in the NFL. However, Cincinnati played it smart, burying their primary contributors during Cincinnati's 9-6 win over the Colts.
Why risk the health of your regular season soldiers during the most insignificant preseason game? It was a game for bubble players angling to make their final arguments to secure a place on the Bengals' 53-man roster. Only two projected starters played on Thursday; A.J. Hawk on defense and Russell Bodine on offense; both quickly joined their teammates on the sidelines near the end of the first quarter.
Cincinnati took a 3-0 lead on a 63-yard drive, highlighted by AJ McCarron's 48-yard throw to Brandon Tate, who snagged the reception and sprinted nearly 35-yards after the reception; he was tackled inside the 30-yard line. Mike Nugent converted a 41-yard field goal with 7:23 remaining in the second quarter to end the drive. The Bengals and Colts exchanged turnovers -- Tyler Kroft had a fumble and a Chris Lewis-Harris deflection turned into an interception -- with Cincinnati completing a seven-play possession to put Nugent into position for a 35-yarder. From there, the Bengals took a 6-0 lead with eight seconds remaining in the first half.
If bubble player expected to make an impression, it was difficult to see the highlights in a fog of sloppiness. McCarron, who played most of the first three quarters, faced intense pressure while Cincinnati's offense had troublesome ball security issues. McCarron didn't have the highlights against Indianapolis like he did against the Chicago Bears on Saturday. The Colts chipped into Cincinnati's expansive six-point lead with an Adam Vinatieri 26-yard field goal with 3:46 remaining in the third.
Despite the lack of scoring, several players made impressions. Linebacker P.J. Dawson submitted a strong performance, leading the team in tackles and recording two quarterback sacks, a tackle-for-loss and an additional two quarterback hits. Trevor Roach, another rookie linebacker destined for Cincinnati's practice squad, was one of the team's leading tacklers throughout the offseason and it showed Thursday night. Wide receiver Greg Little had several impressive receptions, perhaps solidifying his spot on the 53-man roster with Brandon Tate.
#Bengals WR roster: A.J, Marvin Jones, Sanu, Tate, Little, Alford. Kumerow heads to the practice squad. Thoughts?— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 4, 2015
Vinatieri added another 26-yarder, tying the game at six points with 9:30 remaining in the game. Indianapolis threatened on their ensuing possession. A Chris Carter strip-sack led to a Marcus Hardison recovery, stalling the threat and setting up a situation for Cincinnati to reclaim the lead.
Running back James Wilder Jr. navigated through the Colts' defense, achieving a 19-yard gain that reached Indianapolis' 15-yard line. Eventually rookie Tom Orbaski converted a 25-yard field goal with 2:52 remaining in the game, giving the Bengals a 9-6 lead. Safety Floyd Raven sealed Cincinnati's win with an interception at the two minute warning.
AJ McCarron started Thursday's game, completing 13 passes (on 22 attempts) for 184 yards passing in the first half.
Cincinnati's defense forced several turnovers, usually off deflection. Chris Lewis-Harris generated an interception on a deflection, whereas safety Shiloh Keo stalled a Colts' redzone threat on a pass deflected from Lewis-Harris.
On the other side of the ball, Tyler Kroft and Terrell Watson each lost a fumble. McCarron fumbled twice, with the first recovered by Trey Hopkins and the second by James Wilder Jr.