The wait for regular season football is almost over. For the fans, Thursday’s game was one that didn’t count. For some of the players, however, this might have been the game that counted the most. With the starters resting up, the fringe players had their last opportunity to impress the coaching staff and earn their roster spots.
Missed opportunities were the name of the game on Thursday for the Cincinnati Bengals as they lost 7-6 to the Indianapolis Colts. They racked up 10 penalties for 76 yards against the Colts, killing most of their offensive momentum. Jake Elliott, who is fighting for his career missed his second, and third field goals of the preseason to add to the list of bad plays. Even when the Colts fumbled, the Bengals were unable to recover any of the lose footballs.
But, the preseason is now over and the regular season is just days away!
Despite some bad performances, some of the backups were able to impress, helping their chances of improving their depth chart positions. Jarveon Williams carried the ball for over 85 percent of the team’s total carries and gained over 150 yards of total offense. Jordan Evans submitted some highlights that puts him the conversation for a serious role in the absence of Vontaze Burfict. John Ross showed off his speed despite his limited involvement in the offense. Even though the Bengals left much to be desired, there were some positive moments to outweigh the bad.
Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and nearly every other starter had the night off.
The Bengals received the ball first and fielded AJ McCarron, John Ross, Darrin Laufasa, Jarveon Williams, Alex Redmond, and T.J. Johnson. Only the offensive line included games expected to start on September 10; Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, and Trey Hopkins all suited up.
The Bengals picked up 15 yards on five plays before Kermit Whitfield coughed up the football. The Colts recovered the fumble at the Bengals’ 42-yard line.
#Bengals decide to hand off to Kermit Whitfield and he fumbles without being hit. Welcome to the 4th preseason game. #Entertainment— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 31, 2017
Kermit wasn't going to make 53. This won't help his bid for a practice squad spot either. #Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) August 31, 2017
As the defense took over, Wallace Gilberry and Hardy Nickerson went out to try to win their jobs. Other shoo-ins for the roster, like Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson, and Andrew Billings were in the starting lineup as well, perhaps to audition for the starting or significant roles.
Willis made an immediate impact by nearly ending the Colts’ first drive early with a sack. Unfortunately, it was wiped out by an unnecessary roughness penalty from Deshawn Williams. The penalty did not wipe out the impression that Willis has made this preseason, becoming the first Bengals player in the last 15 years to have a sack in all four preseason games.
Another sack for Jordan Willis. 4 in 4 games. First player in Marvin era to do that in preseason. #Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) August 31, 2017
The Colts eventually stalled, thanks to Jordan Evans’ hit on quarterback Scott Tolzien to force an incompletion on fourth down. Evans looked impressive through the first half and will be someone to watch when the regular season starts to see if he can make it onto the field during Vontaze Burfict’s three-game suspension.
The Bengals took over the ball on their own five-yard line. Even after pulling the three starters from the line, the offense was far more efficient on this drive, going 11 plays and 86 yards. Thanks to rushing attempts from Jarveon Williams, John Ross, and even a third down scramble by McCarron, the Bengals were able to drive all the way down to the Colts’ seven-yard line. However, after an awkward incomplete pass that seemed to slip from McCarron’s hand, Randy Bullock was given the opportunity from 31 yards out. His kick was good, and the Bengals took the first lead of the game. Five seconds into the second quarter, the Bengals led the Colts 3-0.
Stephen Morris took over the offense for the Colts and immediately made an impact. He connected on a 51-yard bomb to JoJo Natson on the first play from scrimmage. Even though Bene Benwikere gave up the deep pass, he forced Natson to fumble to ball as he made the tackle (it would be one of many mishandled balls by Natson on the night). Derron Smith came to collect the loose ball, but was unable to keep it in bounds. Once again, Evans helped contain the Colts, forcing two straight incompletions on the final two plays. Veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri hooked a 48-yard attempt, giving the Bengals the ball with no damage done.
Jeff Driskel replaced McCarron under center on the next drive. Williams collected 29 total yards on three touches, but the Bengals couldn’t reach the red zone. Jake Elliott who needed to be perfect in order to have a chance to beat out Bullock, nailed the 50-yard field goal attempt. This was his longest attempt of the preseason, and possibly the most important one of his career (more on him below...not a good update though). The Bengals lead improved to 6-0 with 9:36 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bengals would force a punt, but wouldn’t be able to hold onto the ball for long. Williams fumbled the ball for the second turnover of the game to end a drive that lasted for four plays.
While the drive was progressing, the medical staff looked at Driskel’s right thumb, which he injured after taking a hit on a screen pass to Williams on the previous drive. McCarron returned to the game to lead the offense while Driskel underwent x-rays and returned to the field without a jersey and donning a cast on his hand.
Phillip Walker entered the game at quarterback for the Colts, which would be unfortunate for Indianapolis. Walker took a sack on his first play of the game and followed it up with an interception. Tony McRae nabbed the first takeaway for the Bengals’ defense as the ball landed right in his chest.
By halftime, two quarters of football had taken its toll on the Bengals. John Ross left the game with a knee injury and he and Driskel were both ruled out.
On the bright side, Evans had an outstanding showing. He tallied six total tackles, one quarterback hit, one tackle for a loss and two passes defended. In spite of his fumble, Williams had a great performance as well. Williams ran for 61 yards on 12 carries in the first half, as well as picking up 15 receiving yards.
Except for a pair of long rushes from Williams, the third quarter was devoid of offense. Both offenses combined for three first downs on the first four possessions. The Colts forced the Bengals to punt to the bal as the third quarter came to a close.
No sooner the clock begin to count down the fourth quarter did the Colts punt return unit heat up, even though Natson returned the punt for 38 yards and fumbled again. Even though Demetrious Cox forced the ball out, the Colts were able to retain possession. Five plays later, the Colts scored their first touchdown to tie the game. Justice Liggins had an arm’s length of separation on Bene Benwikere and was able to receive Walker’s perfectly lofted pass. Vinatieri made the extra point, taking the lead from the Bengals.
Trailing for the first time in the game, the Bengals offense went back out with 12:23 left in the game. They were unable to do anything with it but punt, thanks in part to a costly holding penalty from Landon Lechler. Kevin Huber punted it to JoJo Natson, who muffed the catch. For the third time, Natson fumbled and the Bengals were unable to capitalize.
The ensuing drive netted a total of negative two yards, so Alex Erickson had a chance to help the Bengals win the favorable field position they had been missing all game. However, a penalty canceled out the Bengals potential mid-field starting position. There were tons of penalties all night. McCarron and Williams overcame this obstacle to get the offense down to the red zone. Eliott was called upon for the 41-yard field goal attempt, and nailed the kick, which would be wiped out by a false start from Ryan Glasgow. The kick was moved back five yards, but Elliott was not accurate the second time, marking his second miss of the preseason. The Colts took over from their own 36-yard line with 4:42 remaining.
The Colts ended up punting, giving McCarron 3:38 to try to retake the lead. He was successful, taking the team to the 38-yard line by the two-minute warning. Williams pounded the ball up the middle to set up a 47-yard attempt for Bullock. His perfect streak ended on this attempt as the kick was wide to the left. The Bengals held on to one time out, trailing by a single point with 1:42 left in the game.
And suddenly, the Bengals’ kicking situation became a huge question mark.
The Colts were unable to move the sticks, so they punted away to Erickson. The Bengals started at their own 13 with 44 seconds remaining. The most the offense could muster was a 60-yard attempt for Elliott. Though he had the distance, the kick was wide right. Despite the incredible difficulty of the kick, the final missed field goal attempt meant a Bengals loss to the Colts with a final score of 7-6.