The Bengals upended the Colts Thursday night in a 9-6 titanic struggle. The final score is a perfect summary of the apathetic nature that always comes with the final preseason tussle. The game in itself was dull and sloppy. Fumbles and punts. While the seasoned Bengal players already assured of jobs this winter stood on the sidelines, no doubt staring at the still fresh chalk outline where their season died in January, the bubble players played on hoping to ensure a spot on the final 53-man roster. Here, we take a look at how the rookies coped and which young guns performed best in the hopes of securing their roster spot or becoming bigger-impact players this year.
The offensive line wasn't doing any favors for AJ McCarron who saw the business end of the turf four times through three quarters. Fisher looked better in his second NFL game but still has a while to go before he reaches his full potential. Lucky for him he'll have big chunks of the year to learn and grow in the shadow of team leader Andrew Whitworth.
Watson had another solid game but it wasn't enough as he was cut by the team on Saturday. He pounded out 37 yards on the ground which was good enough to be the co-leading rusher with James Wilder Jr. The 6'1" 245 pound back is a runner and proved that time and again during the preseason but holes in his game, as far as blocking ability, haven't done him any favors. It was hard to see him stealing snaps from the likes of Burkhead or even the quick footed Peerman during the season and unfortunately it came down to roster size and depth. If he had proved more notable on Thursday night, perhaps the final decision on him would have been more difficult.
Greg Little likely popped Jake Kumerow's bubble. The final wide receiver spot seemed to come down to these two men and Little outperformed the rookie grabbing three balls for 43 yards on the night. Kumerow hauled in one catch for nine yards and drew a 24 yard pass interference call, but didn't show much else. Despite what most might think Little's NFL experience gave him the edge on Kumerow who was cut but may likely be returning to the practice squad.
When P.J Dawson stepped onto the field Thursday night, there wasn't a whole lot he needed to prove. All preseason long, he dominated at the linebacker position. He didn't have to do much to ensure significant playing time this season but he did anyway. He led the defense by recording nine tackles and broke through the Ponies' offense line for two big sacks. He is the real deal. The heir apparent to Vontaze Burfict. Get ready for a big year from number 47.
Another week, another good impression made from Hardison. His key play from Thursday night's game happened when he recovered the game-changing fumble in the fourth quarter on the Colts' 34 yard line. The turnover led to the game-winning field goal. During the course of the preseason Hardison did all he could to prove his worth on the Bengals' roster.
A part of the big defensive night for the Bengals was DeShawn Williams. Unfortunately, Williams was also a roster casualty on Saturday, though he too hopes to return to the team via the practice squad. The Clemson product helped produce the field goal stand in the third quarter by sacking the Colts quarterback on third down. The decision to cut him couldn't have been easy. The Bengals are extremely talented on the defensive line and the story here is that there just aren't enough jerseys to go around.
Alford continued to nail down his role on the Bengals' roster Thursday. A 24-yard kick return and 17-yard scramble on his lone punt return were his final preseason stats on special teams. He even had an impressive catch for 17 yards on the night as icing on the cake. While Brandon Tate will hang around for at least another year, we can at least all hope Alford and his game-changing speed will get the majority of kickbacks.