Updated: 9-4-09, 12:35 a.m.
Maybe the Bengals have to keep four running backs.
After watching Brian Leonard spark the Bengals to a 24-7 halftime lead with 64 yards on nine carries, DeDe Dorsey took the ball off Colts punter Pat McAfee's foot and then picked up the blocked kick for a seven-yard touchdown return that finished off the Bengals 38-7 victory before 56,527 Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
Any starters that were out there were pretty much gone by the second series in the preseason finale and the Bengals ended up with plenty of tape to watch for their final roster cuts as the backups ripped off 31 straight points and 296 rushing yards for their biggest score in the preseason since Carson Palmer's comeback party at PBS in a 48-17 win over Green Bay on Aug. 28, 2006.
"The message is, 'Now it's for real.' We were able to get a lot of guys playing time, which means we'll have a lot of tape to evaluate some guys down the line," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "We were efficient, and we went out and executed today. We can't control who we play against. I thought it was good for our guys to break a sweat. With the rest of the group, I thought they played well. We have a lot of good tape to evaluate."
As sloppy as the Bengals were in last week's 24-21 loss to the Rams, the Bengals apparently listened to Lewis' postgame tantrum that began and ended this week's episiode of Hard Knocks. The team that had allowed 11 sacks before Thursday yielded one. The team that had a minus-five turnover margin in the first three games was plus-2 Thursday. The team that had generated just four sacks in the preseason had six Thursday.
"That's an every-other-day thing with me. You were just able to see it this time," Lewis said of his televised eruption. "It's a long football season, and you have to come to work every day. This is a young football team. If you look at the experience of our guys, it's amazing. When Chad (Ochocinco) has a close parking spot, that's bad and it means we're a young team. That's where we are. We can't afford any lapses. We can't afford to leave any stone unturned. There is a lot that goes into what you saw last week."
The lead story, of course, is Leonard-Dorsey for the third and last roster spot for running backs. Or now do the Bengals keep both for four backs and just one fullback?
As safety Chinedum Ndukwe said behind the media horde in front of Dorsey in the postgame locker room, "TD-DD (Dorsey)."
Dorsey has done this before. Back in 2007 he was the last Bengal to block a punt for a touchdown in a regular-season loss to the Cardinals. This was the same deal. Special teams coach Darrn Simmons gave him a nod and a wink.
"I'd been messing with Coach Simmons," Dorsey said. "I'd been wanting to get one all year. He told me to just go and I beat the guy around the edge."
When Dorsey spun out of a tackle in the backfield for a five-yard gain as part of his 68 yards on 13 carries, the Bengals had 235 yards rushing at the end of the third quarter.
They actually sniffed 300 yards rushing, but another running back who is looking for a job somewhere, James Johnson, had his 40-yard touchdown run called back when wide receiver Quan Cosby was called for holding.
The Bengals broke open a 10-7 game with two touchdowns in the final of 1:54 of the first half behind the final roster lunges of Leonard and Frostee Rucker.
Leonard punched it in from four yards out with 32 seconds left in the half for a 24-7 lead. That came courtesy of Rucker, a defensive end who can also play tackle, who wheeled around Colts left tackle Tony Ugoh to slap the ball away from quarterback Jim Sorgi. Rucker, his roster status in doubt because of a preseason marred by a hip injury, then fell on his forced fumble on the opposite side of the field at the Colts 14.
Leonard, who came into the game with just 50 yards in the preseason, then bolted for a 12-yard gain behind center Jonathan Luigs and left guard Evan Mathis. After he took a two-yard loss, Leonard converted on the next carry to put the pressure squarely on Dorsey.
"We're not going to brag about statistics tonight," Lewis said at the half. "But the first group came out, set a good tempo and got things done. Then we started getting the opportunity to see the guys who need to show they deserve to be here. We're getting some good tape to look at, and that's what tonight is all about."
The previous touchdown drive was also a Leonard DVD. On his literal final leap at the roster, he made a hurdling 23-yard run in which he cut back to the middle from the outside and the last seven yards or so came when he vaulted over diving safety Travis Key. Leonard then flexed his muscles inside and rammed for nine more yards on a third-and-one from the 16 to set up wide receiver Chris Henry's fourth touchdown in the preseason. He became the first Bengal to log a touchdown in every preseason game since 1995, as far back as the Elias Sports Bureau has those records.
Asked if he'd done enough to make it, Leonard wasn't sure.
"We are battling for a spot on this team, and it's important to us. After I went out and had a decent first half, I saw DeDe pacing on the sidelines, ready to go," Leonard said. "He wants to show his talents, and really, from what I've seen on TV, it really came down to this game as to who will make this team."
Leonard was referring to *Hard Knocks *and that's a spot where Dorsey has already been. He's been cut twice already, the team he played for and the team he played against Thursday. Dorsey knows there are other places.
"I hope so — that somebody else likes what they see on film," he said. "It would be great if it was here in Cincinnati. I've been here awhile. If it doesn't work out here, I am just thankful for the opportunity and hope that somebody else likes what they see and picks me up."
Quarterback Jordan Palmer rolled out and hit the wide-open Henry sitting in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown pass. Palmer threw in his own rambling 26-yard scramble in which he chose to cut back from the sideline to the middle of the field and was strong enough to keep the ball tucked to his chest before it came out when he hit the ground. The fumble was overturned when Lewis won his challenge.
Then Palmer came back out in the second half and completed his first four passes, the last one a 25-yard touchdown on rollout pass off play-action to tight end Kolomona Kapanui in which Cosby got in a nice block for the final couple of yards as the Bengals jacked it to 31-7 midway through the third quarter. Earlier in the drive Dorsey ripped off a 14-yard run despite his helmet flying off.
The Bengals also got a 49-yard field goal from replacement kicker Sam Swank following backup running back Bernard Scott's 35-yard kick return for a 10-7 lead with 3:14 left in the first quarter. Scott, the sixth-round pick, left at least one Colt on the ground when he made a hellacious cut to his left from the middle of the field.
Scott showed why he's already got a spot behind starter Cedric Benson with another how-did-he-do-that run to cap off his 43-yard night on just five carries. This one was a 26-yarder in which he somehow slithered off linebacker Jordan Senn in the backfield and put the gas to the pedal when he reached the perimeter and then cut it back.
On the final play of the first quarter, rookie cornerback Morgan Trent gave up a first-down pass at about his 35 to wide receiver John Matthews, but Trent hung on to him and out of Matthews' second effort came a fumble that was scooped up by Bengals safety Marvin White at the 30.
The Bengals couldn't take advantage when a few snaps later Palmer took a shot at Henry and it was intercepted, but Palmer rebounded to finish the half with four completions out of nine passes for 22 yards and the touchdown and then came out blazing in the second half.
Defensive tackle Pat Sims stopped Colts quarterback Jim Sorgi's streak of converting four straight third downs on the first of his two sacks with 10:12 left in the first half to protect the 10-7 lead.
On the ensuing punt safety Tom Nelson, vying for the return job with Cosby, made two Colts miss on a seven-yard return.
Sims hooked up with linebacker Brandon Johnson to sack Sorgi to end the next drive, but Cosby's 13-yard burst up the middle on his punt return was negated by Johnson's late block that was ruled unnecessary roughness and put the Bengals back at their 19.
The first team Bengals offense wasted no time scoring on the Colts' second defense when quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan changed the play at the line and hit wide receiver Andre Caldwell with a 14-yard touchdown pass less than five minutes into the game for a 7-0 lead.
It didn't last long when the Bengals subbed their defensive starters and Sorgi hit wide receiver Taj Smith with a 22-yard touchdown pass that tied it at 7 with 6:04 left in the first quarter.
Caldwell knifed inside the corner and held on to the ball in the end zone after safety Matt Giordano popped him to culminate a crisp five-play 61-yard drive highlighted by Benson's 24-yard run behind nice backside blocks from the right side of guard Bobbie Williams, tackle Anthony Collins and tight end Dan Coats. Then Benson came back on the next snap to add a nine-yard pickup on a screen pass.
The Colts didn't have one starter on the field when they opened the game against the Bengals' first defense and what should have happened did. The Bengals forced a three-and-out punt when safety Roy Williams popped the ball from tight end Jamie Petrowski as he was about to get a first down.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer promptly put in a batch of backups on the next series and appeared to get a turnover when a couple of reserves trying to make the team stepped up. After tight end Jacob Tamme got his hands on a high pass and White separated him from the ball with a big hit, safety Corey Lynch intercepted the tip. But the play was called back when Sims was flagged for being in the neutral zone
Sorgi made it hurt on a third-and-three from the Bengals 22. Cornerback Geoff Pope had good coverage on Taj Smith, but he didn't find the ball in time.
Some Bengals besides quarterback Carson Palmer got a rest Thursday. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles (ailment unknown) didn't play and rookie defensive end Michael Johnson also got a rest with a variety of bruises. Listed as a starter in place of Chris Crocker (hamstring) at free safety, Chinedum Ndukwe didn't play either for an unknown reason and Marvin White got the start.
The biggest injury looked to belong to backup guard Andrew Crummey, who was on crutches after injuring his ankle.
*PREGAME NOTES: *Quarterback Carson Palmer is dressing for Thursday night's preseason finale and could play, but it is unlikely since J.T. O'Sullivan is getting the start against the Colts.
Scratched for sure are kicker Shayne Graham (groin), cornerback David Jones (foot), safety Chris Crocker (hamstring), wide receiver Antonio Chatman (ankle), as well as rookie right tackle Andre Smith after he suffered a broken foot in his third practice on Tuesday. Chatman, along with Jones, didn't get to play in a preseason game.
Wide receiver Laveranues Coles is dressing but Andre Caldwell starts in his place, which answers the question what does Chris Henry have to do to start. According to head coach Marvin Lewis block and tackle on interceptions, which didn't happen last week. Chinedum Ndukwe draws the start for Crocker.
Palmer appearerd on the field during warmups with the other quarterbacks and began throwing standing still to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. He then progressed to what looked to be his most vigorous work since he sprained his ankle Aug. 14, dropping back sharply and throwing routes to receivers.
Tony Dungy may be retired, but new Colts coach Jim Caldwell is keeping the tradition alive. A total of 20 starters were to start the game on the bench, including quarterback Peyton Manning sitting in favor of Jim Sorgi.
Players to watch for the last Bengals roster spots figure to be visible on special teams, keeping in mind that the Bengals can still go to the waiver wire after Saturday's cuts and before Sunday's finalization of the roster.
Punt returners Quan Cosby and Tom Nelson will be covering more punts and kicks in addition to fielding punts. Other safeties fighting for a spot, Marvin White and special teams ace Kyries Hebert, will also be lined up as gunners, the first players down on punt cover. Another safety, Corey Lynch, also has a key spot as the personal protector for the punter.
Wide receiver Maurice Purify is also on the edge of the roster, but he's made a run with his play on special teams.
Lewis had the offense announced individually in their black jerseys and white pants and sent out for captains Hebert, running back Cedric Benson, defensive tackle Domata Peko and linebacker Dhani Jones. The Colts won the toss and received.