INDIANAPOLIS - While Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis fretted over the blocking of his backup offensive lines Thursday night, he finally got some take-charge play from his No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks in the preseason finale's 30-28 win over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The byproduct is the Bengals got to see their two promising young wide receivers at work with third-year vet Jerome Simpson catching six balls for 68 yards and a touchdown and sixth-rounder Dez Briscoe chewing up third team cornerback Terrail Lambert on a double move for a 50-yard touchdown catch.
With special teams ace Quan Cosby looking like he's got one of the last two receiver spots, Simpson and Briscoe are taking the scrum for the last spot to the wire.
Whether it was enough for the Bengals to sit out a No. 2 quarterback derby during the weekend's roster moves remains to be seen, but backup J.T. O'Sullivan had his best night of the preseason with a 100 passer rating on 9-of-12 passing for 102 yards. So did No. 3 Jordan Palmer with two touchdown passes and 114 yards on 10-of-14 passing for a 135.1 rating.
"I hadn't been able to transfer how I practiced to the game so I think I was able to do that," Palmer said. "It was a fun night to be out there playing quarterback. We had (three) penalties … but we came back on the next series. It was good to be able to stay in there as an offense and stay resilient. They'd score and we'd come back. It was fun."
O'Sullivan played all but the first series in the first half and the first series of the second half before Palmer finished it out.
"(O'Sullivan) was able to get rid of the football and throw it away tonight and escape and move and live to play another day, which is a good thing," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "And I thought Jordan came in at the end and did a good job. For the most part, they kind of handled situations and were much calmer, and that's good."
Simpson had a bizarre night. He had a 17-yard touchdown catch from Palmer when he beat one-on-one coverage in the left corner, as well as holding calls on a punt return and running back James Johnson's 22-yard run from scrimmage. He also covered a Colts punt that bounced up and hit him in the helmet for a turnover at the Bengals 23 midway through the fourth quarter.
But he also skied to make a fabulous leaping catch over the middle for an 18-yard gain from O'Sullivan on third-and-10. The night showed in microcosm why Simpson has made the coaches gnash their teeth as well as hang on for hope while he has played in just eight games since being taken in the second round in 2008.
"He got to show what we had been hoping for him to show us," Jordan Palmer said and Carson Palmer added, "Another big night for him. He was playing on special teams, too, so good to see him out there running around and trying to get in the mix a little on special teams. He made a real nice catch on a deep ball in the end zone on a corner route. He just looked good."
The conundrum is this:
Go with Simpson and the big-league measurable and while he has struggled with the scheme he has also been in it now for three years. Or go with Briscoe, a guy that showed how good his technique is despite turning just 21 on Tuesday. The Bengals could keep Simpson and try to put Briscoe on the practice squad, but Briscoe was a high-profile player at Kansas and that TD is now on tape. So someone could claim him either off waivers or off the practice squad once it is formed Sunday.
"Totally different guys," Jordan Palmer said. "Jerome is so athletic. I don't know who you can compare him (to). He's the best athlete on the team. Dez is just a pure route runner, a big-time producer in college, but he's a young guy. He just turned 21. He's a real young guy. Jerome relies on his athletic ability. Dezmon relies on his route running. So to be 21 years old and relying on something that's tough to learn how to do, both of them have bright futures; for two different reasons."
Briscoe had just four catches in the preseason, but his last one showed off a route that made Lambert stumble on what turned out to be the club's longest pass of the preseason.
"Earlier they had jumped him on a stop route," Jordan Palmer said. "If I had thrown it, it probably would have been picked, so I pulled it down and dumped it to the running back. As soon as we had that pump, I wanted to go back to Dezmon. Something about the defense was thinking he wasn't going to take it deep."
After a huddle with the coaches, Briscoe knew a double move might be coming.
"On the drive before they were sitting on our seam routes and go routes and the coaches did a good job of changing it up," Briscoe said. "I was able to use good technique and get open."
Briscoe is like everyone else on the roster spot. "I have no clue," he said, but he's also confident he'll end up somewhere. "I believe so. I think my film is pretty good."
Maybe he can finally have a celebration if he's on the 53 or the practice squad or wherever. Briscoe said, "I took myself out to dinner" for that 21st at a downtown Rock Bottom on Tuesday.
"Pretty normal day," he said.
Which is OK because Thursday was a little better.