Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and his staff had to be thrilled at half time. They had just seen their team dominate the Indianapolis Colts over the first two quarters of Thursday's final preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. After the game, however, they were not as excited as they watched the Bengals allow the Colts to drive down the field and take a 17-13 lead with just over a minute to play. Dan LeFevour moved the Bengals down to the Colts 25 yard line with 19 seconds left before throwing an interception that sealed the game.
For Lewis though, the bright spots far outweighed the negatives, especially since it's preseason. Those who performed well on Thursday will be with the club next week in Cleveland while those who didn't will be actively seeking employment. One who definitely cemented his job was quarterback Andy Dalton.
Though neither of Dalton's two series resulted in scores, the rookie looked poised on Thursday. After an opening three and out, Dalton guided the team down the field displaying excellent pocket awareness and escapability. He stood in the pocket and delivered a strike to Jordan Shipley to convert a third and eight during the second possession. He looked in perfect rhythm, dropping back three steps and releasing the ball each time. When he was forced to hold it, he got outside the pocket and kept his eyes down field. The second drive would have likely produced points had not AJ Green fumbled inside the Colts 20 trying to elude a tackler and gain a first down.
Bruce Gradkowski was just as effective, going 14 of 17 for 90 yards and leading the team on two scoring drives including a one yard scoring plunge by Cedric Peerman. Peerman rushed 10 times for 36 yards and also caught three balls out of the backfield for 24 yards. He and Brian Leonard formed a formidable duo in Cedric Benson's absence. Leonard carried 11 times for 57 yards in a little over a quarter's work. Also impressive on the offensive side was Ryan Whalen who's competing for a roster spot. He caught four passes for 33 yards.
The Bengals defense was also solid, at least with the first two units. The fourth quarter was another story. In the first half, the Bengals held Colts quarterback Kerry Collins to five of 10 passing for just 45 yards. If not for a Taylor Mays pass interference call on the Colts first drive which only netted an Adam Vinatieri field goal, the Colts might not have scored. Mays had a solid performance over all, making his presence felt against the run and defending one pass.
Two other players fighting for their jobs, CB Jonathan Wade and LB Dan Skuta, had up and down evenings. Wade appeared to have intercepted a Kerry Collins pass in the first half which was subsequently reversed and called incomplete. In the second half though, Colts WR Taj Smith burned Wade badly for 54 yards. He was also called for an illegal motion penalty that negated a Kevin Huber punt that had been downed inside the ten yard line. Huber's next attempt went out of bounds at the 25 where the Colts set up for their game winning drive. Skuta missed an open field tackle on running back Darren Evans who took a screen pass 28 yards inside the Bengals' five yard line. Skuta would recover, however, stopping Evans at the goal line on second and third down. The Colts went for the score on fourth down and Skuta almost saved the day, but Evans was able to just break the plane of the goal line as Skuta brought him down.
Cornerback David Pender will no doubt be among those cut from the team. He was beaten every which way by Taj Smith on the Colts' final drive, including on the game-winning touchdown pass.
The victory for the Colts was their first this preseason and snaps an overall nine game winless streak in preseason games, including seven losses to the Bengals. Indianapolis will now turn their attention to seeing if Peyton Manning will be able to start week one when the team travels to Houston to take on the Texans. If Manning can't go, I can't imagine the coaches saw anything from Thursday's performance that would elevate Kerry Collins over Curtis Painter.
As for Cincinnati, they finish the preseason at 1-3, but have some definite momentum moving toward their September 11 opener in Cleveland. The coaches will look at the film tomorrow and begin the process of winnowing the roster down to the NFL maximum of 53 players.
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