Updated: 9:55 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS - The Bengals took a 27-7 win here over the Colts in one of those forgettable preseason finales save for their first look at new and sprawling Lucas Oil Stadium.
The biggest news in the first half was who didn't play as running back Rudi Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh dressed for their first game of the season after dealing with hamstring issues but didn't appear and they didn't come out in the third quarter, either.
The Bengals appeared to dodge injury when wide receiver Glenn Holt, who made the big catch in each of the two touchdown drives, left the game under his own power after a shot to the head late in the first half but he did return to action in the second half.
Ryan Fitzpatrick had 35 yards rushing in Cincinnati's opening touchdown drive. (AP photo)What wasn't questionable is that the inability to run the ball this preseason is going to haunt the Bengals straight into the Sept. 7 opener in Baltimore.
Despite two series for the first offensive line against a lot of guys that won't be here next week, the Bengals could manage just 29 yards on 16 carries from their running backs. The rush stats were helped by the resourceful Ryan Fitzpatrick's 35 yards on four carries out of the pocket.
With players scrambling for roster spots, Fitzpatrick, the Bengals backup quarterback, ran for three first downs on third down and threw for one on fourth as the Bengals broke a skein of six straight quarters without a touchdown in a 21-play drive on their first series of the game.
Fitzpatrick then threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Holt on the first play of the second quarter as the Bengals took a 17-0 lead late in the first half five days after they ran a mere 27 plays in the first half of a 13-0 shutout loss to the Saints.
Fitzpatrick left after the second series and his third touchdown drive of the season, two more than engineered by starter Carson Palmer's group in the three previous games.
When quarterback Jeff Rowe came in for the game's third series, so did the backup offensive line and wide receiver Chris Henry followed to make his season debut.
Henry made his first catch on Rowe's quick-hitter thrown across the line of scrimmage for a loss of a yard, but Shayne Graham kicked a 46-yard field goal to end the drive to make it 17-0 with 3:39 left in the first half.
The big play had some hometown flavor when tight end Nate Lawrie, an Indy product, hauled in a 30-yard pass.
Henry added a 10-yard catch over the middle later in the half.
Former Bengals wide receiver Courtney Roby then got the Colts on the board when he popped a 103-yard kick return for a touchdown, bookending a preseason that also included a blocked field goal.
Bengals take early lead
With the Colts lining up no starters on either side of the ball, running back Chris Perry gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead in the last minute of the first quarter when he walked in from five yards out behind left guard Andrew Whitworth's pulling block.
It wasn't exactly a drive of dominance for the Bengals' first offensive line. Before the TD run, Perry had just 15 yards on eight carries and finished the night with 20 yards on nine carries. The Bengals needed scrambles from Fitzpatrick on third-and-10 (for 10), third-and-one (for two), and third-and-six (for 16) to keep the drive alive. He also found Holt over the middle on fourth-and-five for five and then found him in the end zone between two defenders for the touchdown moments after Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko executed a sack and fumble recovery at the Indy 10.
The Bengals played their first defense for the first two series and then the backups dug in for one final shot at the roster against a familiar Cincinnati face in former Highlands High School and Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen. They got a sack from tackle Michael Myers and two of right end Frostee Rucker's three tackles were for a loss in the half.
The second half was then left for guys who haven't seen much time this preseason. Running back DeDe Dorsey had 38 yards on nine carries after getting just seven attempts in the previous two games. The last one was a six-yard touchdown run up the middle to give the Bengals a 27-7 lead on the first snap of the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Jordan Palmer, who had throw just three passes all year, checked into the game early in the third quarter and ripped off a 15-yard scramble to set up Graham's 30-yard field goal with 6:20 left in the third quarter for a 20-7 lead. Palmer finished 4-of-7 for 43 yards passing.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, rookie running back James Johnson ripped off a 42-yard run, doubling the club's longest run of the preseason. Johnson had 54 yards on eight carries for the night.
On defense, rookie tackle Jason Shirley rung up a sack and linebacker Ahmad Brooks, in a monster roster fight, lined up at a couple of different spots, including as a rush end on third down. He also moved back to the middle after getting switched to SAM backer in the spring.
Starting SAM backer Rashad Jeanty and end/backer Eric Henderson made their first appearances of the summer after an injury-riddled camp. Henderson got into the backfield to log a three-yard tackle for loss.
Safety Kyries Hebert has played enough that he could be closing in on a roster spot, and late in the third quarter he got a step closer when he intercepted a Lorenzen pass over the middle. But he drew a five-yard delay-of-game penalty when he threw the ball up in the air to celebrate.
With the Colts looking at a fourth-and-nine from the Bengals 15 with 8:48 left in the game, cornerback David Jones broke up a pass in the end zone to preserve the 27-7 lead.
PREGAME NOTES: Antonio Chatman and Perry got the respective starts again at receiver and running back with Fitzpatrick running things in place of Carson Palmer. But getting his first start of the preseason was fullback Jeremi Johnson in his second game since coming off the non-football injury list with a weight problem.
Sixth-round pick Corey Lynch, ending an active preseason, got the start in place of injured strong safety Dexter Jackson, out with a sprained ankle that isn't expected to ice him for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener.
Henry signed nine days ago but not eligible for the 53-man roster until Week 5 because of an NFL suspension.
Backup right tackle Willie Anderson got the night off after the short week. Also out were injured safety Chinedum Ndukwe (knee), linebacker Dan Howell (foot), center Dan Santucci (ankle), wide receivers Chad Johnson (shoulder) and Andre Caldwell (foot), tight end Matt Sherry (shoulder) and defensive tackle Pat Sims (toe).
Never mind that the Bengals didn't see Colts Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning. They didn't even see backup quarterback Jim Sorgi. Someone named Quinn Gray, a fifth-year 254-pounder out of Florida A&M, got the start.
The Colts must be doing something right. Since 2005 they haven't lost a regular-season game before Nov. 1. In that same stretch they are 3-13 in the preseason.
So there was nothing on the line but jobs.
Unless you counted the curious case of Rudi Johnson and his spot with the club. Amid reports the Bengals were "shopping" Johnson for a veteran wide receiver, there were no indications they were dealing him even though he has said he's convinced he's gone before Opening Day.
Does he think the Bengals will cut him? He said this week, "they've been trying to get rid of me ever since I've been here." But the other veteran running backs, Perry, Watson and Dorsey, aren't proven 16-game bell cows like a healthy Johnson.
Also complicating the running back position is Jeremi Johnson. After being in the doghouse much of training camp, Johnson seems to have emerged. Since the Bengals traditionally keep one fullback and three running backs, that would put one of the running backs on the bubble.
Dan Coats figures to still make it as both a backup tight end and fullback.
Another spot to watch is the secondary with the two strong safeties, Jackson and Ndukwe, sitting out Thursday with injuries. Lynch, special teams aces Herana-Daze Jones and John Busing, and Hebert, a CFL refugee, look to be in a pitched battle for one of the five safety spots.
Or could it be six if the Bengals decide to keep Jones as both a safety and cornerback and just keep four corners?
That is just one of the questions that has to be answered by Saturday at 6 p.m., when clubs have to be down to 53 players. Then the Bengals can pick up players off waivers and form the final 53 by noon Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Bengals were trying to survive Thursday night without major injury. Their game captains were Fitzpatrick, Darryl Blackstock, cornerbacks Leon Hall and David Jones, and right tackle Stacy Andrews.
The Colts won the toss and received the opening kickoff. Bengals to watch on kick coverage were Hebert and David Jones, the gunners on the punt team.
Hall saved a touchdown on the opening kick when he dove to his right and hauled down Roby flying up the middle at the Bengals 45.
One off field note, ProFootballTalk.com reported Thursday night that Chad Johnson has officially changed his name to Chad Ocho Cinco.
What are the odds he'll surface in Baltimore on Sept. 7 with a No. 85 Ocho Cinco jersey?