INDIANAPOLIS - With their first-round pick getting tests for his knee and their No. 3 quarterback wearing a splint on his throwing thumb, injuries overshadowed Thursday night's 7-6 loss in the pre-season finale to the Colts and may impact Saturday's final cuts.
The game couldn't even decide the Bengals' kicking competition when both candidates missed three winners in the final 4:42. Rookie Jake Elliott had a chance to win it with 4:42 left when he made a 41-yarder, yet defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow was called for a false start and Elliott hooked left the ensuing 46-yarder. Then with 1:45 left veteran Randy Bullock missed his first attempt of seven pre-season field goal tries from 47 yards. Elliott came on to kick a 60-yarder with two seconds left and it barely missed to the left.
Backup quarterback Andy Dalton, pressed into service when Jeff Driskel went down in the second quarter, made a scrambling 27-yard completion to wide receiver Alex Erickson to put the Bengals at the Colts 34 at the two-minute warning to give the Bengals Bullock's shot and then a 24-yarder to rookie tight end Cethan Carter to set up the 60.
But all eyes were on rookie wide receiver John Ross, the first-round pick who returned to the home of his immortal 40-yard dash back in March at the scouting combine and ripped off the biggest play of his two-game NFL career with a 25-yard gain off a reverse late in the first half. But he left with a knee injury and was declared out of the game and an MRI is pending.
Driskel also left early and was declared out when he broke his throwing thumb after he got drilled when the offensive line didn't keep defenders at bay long enough on a screen pass. He later emerged on the sidelines in street clothes and the thumb in a splint.
Bengals rookie linebacker Jordan Evans wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine that takes place in the home of the Colts, but he turned Lucas Oil Stadium into his personal showcase. While his defense pitched a 6-0 half-time lead and didn't allow points until 12:23 left in the game, Colts No. 4 quarterback Phillip Walker made it count with a 29-yard touchdown pass.
With the Bengals holding Indy to one out of nine third down, Walker converted a third-and-nine blitz with a 29-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Justice Liggins making his first catch of the preseason running past cornerback Bene Benwikere to give the Colts a 7-6 lead. The Bengals couldn't hop on two fumbled punts in the second half and the first one hurt when it came at the end of wide receiver JoJo Natson's 30-yard return that set up the Colts' touchdown.
In a game of backups where undrafted rookie running back Jarveon Williams led the Bengals with 117 yards on 27 carries, Evans showed why the Bengals think they have more than a reserve in the sixth-rounder from Oklahoma when he displayed his many skills on the first two series.
On the first one he dropped running back Troymaine Pope for a four-yard loss and on fourth-and-two from the Bengals 5 he hit quarterback Scott Tolzein to force a fluttering incompletion, and on the next series he had back-to-back passes defensed. The word coming out of the draft was he was good in coverage and unknown against the run, but he racked up six tackles in all phases in just the first half alone as he keyed a unit that blanked the Colts on all five third-down tries in the first half.
Ross started at wide receiver as the only starters that started were on the offensive line, both tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, and right guard Trey Hopkins. They only played the five plays of the first series and were replaced by Andre Smith at left tackle, Eric Winston at right, and Christian Westerman at right guard.
They participated in a 12-play, 83-yard field goal drive engineered by McCarron, who made a terrific scramble for a first down, started the reverse to Ross, and got an 18-yard dash from undrafted rookie running back Jarveon Williams where he made the safety miss at the second level.
After McCarron's pump fake slipped out of his hand, Bullock hit a 31-yard field goal on the first snap of the second quarter to give the Bengals a 3-0 lead. There seemed to be an air of inevitability surrounding Bullock's bid for the kicking job when that one went through. That made him 6-for-6 for the preseason and with a better percentage in practice by about 15 points, it seemed like Bullock's job to lose, but Elliott wouldn't go away. With 9:31 left in the second quarter, Elliott, the fifth-round pick, drilled his first 50-yarder from 50 and went to 4-for-5 on the preseason.
So that gave you a believe-it-or-not moment in the first half. Bullock and Elliott continued their roster battle on the edge of the league with makes while Colts' future Hall-of Famer Adam Vinatieri missed a 44-yarder.
It was a sloppy grind. The Bengals not only lost two fumbles in the half, but they committed six penalties for 44 yards. While the defense short-circuited the Colts' two-minute drill at the end of the half (undrafted rookie linebacker Brandon Bell had the pass defensed on the third-and-eight), the Bengals could only respond with a three-and-out. They also could only punt despite Bengals cornerback Tony McRae's pick that put the ball at the Cincy 48.
Jarveon Williams had 61 yards on 12 carries, thanks to a pair of 18-yarders, for the Bengals while McCarron went 10 of 13 for 72 yards.
PRE-GAME HITS: Most of the Bengals starters weren't expected to play Thursday night because it is the pre-season finale against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium and two couldn't because of injury.
Safety Shawn Williams (elbow) is out a few weeks with a dislocation and running back Jeremy Hill (ankle) is expected to be ready for the Sept. 10 opener against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium.
Also out Thursday because of injury were rookie tight end Mason Schreck and second-year running back Tra Carson, which could hurt their ability to make Saturday's cutdown. Backup tight end C.J. Uzomah (ankle) is expected to make it but he won't be able to play for a few more weeks.
With Hill out, Cedric Peerman on injured reserve, and Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon expected to be iced or barely play, the bell cow figured to be 5-9, 205-pound Jarveon Williams, a college free agent rookie out of Texas-San Antonio.
Cincinnati Bengals take on the Indianapolis Colts in week 4 of the preseason.