INDIANAPOLIS - Five years to nearly the day of the Cedric Peerman Bowl, linebacker Chris Carter went on the road to secure a roster spot in spectacular fashion in the pre-season finale.
It will be recalled that in 2010 Peerman came to Indianapolis in a roster scrum with running back James Johnson and delivered a 93-yard touchdown run and a 60-yard kick return and he's been on the roster ever since.
It's unclear how long Carter is going to last, but it certainly looks like he'll be on this Opening Day roster at least after his sack led to the Bengals' winning points in a 9-6 victory over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. No tight end has been able to block Carter this preseason and add Colts' fourth-team fullback Sean McGrath to the list. He had no chance against Carter on a blitz with just under four minutes left in a 6-6 game and when third-string quarterback Bryan Bennett tried to throw it with Carter around his waist on the blind-side, the ball came loose and rookie tackle Marcus Hardison jumped on the fumble at the Colts 34.
Minutes later rookie Tom Obarski kicked a 28-yard field goal to win it and Carter savored his team-leading 3.5 sack in the preseason.
"I was just trying to hit the quarterback, honestly," Carter said. "I was just happy to get a sack."
Carter's effort was at the centerpiece of the second-team defense's sterling night. Third-round pick P.J. Dawson, the linebacker out of TCU, is in no danger of getting cut, but he came up with the best performance of his brief pro career with a team-high nine tackles and two sacks.
Hardison, a fourth-round pick, probably doesn't have to worry either, but he hopped on the fumble just to make sure. Tackles Devon Still and DeShawn Williams are in more precarious positions along the Bengals' deep and talented defensive front, but they still played well enough to remind the Bengals this line is the toughest cut of the preseason. Williams had a sack and Still had one taken away on a penalty.
Naturally, Carter did it against the team that cut him last year before the Bengals picked him up. But the Colts and Steelers, his first NFL team, have never used him liked this. The Bengals are taking advantage of his pass-rushing skills off the edge and at linebacker. On Thursday he lined up about half the time as a linebacker and half the time as an edge rusher and once the Colts were called for holding on his pass rush.
"At the end of the day it's about being confident when they call a play with your name on it," Carter said. "Even if they don't, try to make a play as long as it's in the scheme of the defense."
It didn't look like Carter was trying to beat out a certain player like Peerman was five years ago. He has appeared to succeed in securing the sixth backer spot, now the Bengals have to decide if they keep six or seven linebackers with Marquis Flowers being the most logical choice as the seventh. But Flowers left the game with a shoulder injury late in the first half and it's unclear how badly he's hurt.
"I definitely put a lot of good things on tape. I don't want to use the term 'enough,' too loosely," Carter said. "I'm not a coach so I can't make all the decisions. I'm definitely comfortable with it."
In his fifth NFL season, Carter says this is the most he's studied and been coached, so he was in a pretty good frame of mind coming into this one.
"I think the biggest thing I've learned (in five years) is to block out the stress and just go out there and play," he said. "I've turned into a little bit of a perfectionist this year, so there are some things I'm going to go back and obsess over."
But there were no second thoughts on the efforts made. Still, the veteran with a national story to tell, and Williams, the undrafted rookie out of Clemson, looked to be the longest shots when the night began on the defensive line. Still won't dread the decision. Williams, the youth, has a long 40 hours or so until Saturday's final cuts.
Still put together his second straight productive game and had a tackle for a three-yard loss on third-and-one to go along with the sack that was swiped.
"If I didn't go through what I went through last year, it would be tough to sit around and wait for this type of news," said Still, whose five-year-old daughter Leah has fought cancer into remission. "But I've had to wait around for news that is much more serious than this. I'm not nervous at all. I think I went out there and put all I had on tape. Hopefully the coaches like it. If not, hopefully another ball club will."
Williams is trying to do what his father couldn't do in 1992 and 1993 when running back Ronald Williams didn't stick with the Bengals out of preseason after he also came undrafted out of Clemson. His son had a much better camp than he did, but then, DeShawn Williams had a better camp than most rookies. He finished with two sacks and showed that he can play both end and tackle.
"That was big," Williams said of his sack on Thursday night. "I just wanted to give it my all and I feel like we did that as a group. I'm happy with the outcome. I feel like I showed the coaches what I can do. It's up the decision maker. But I know I can play. I showed it during the preseason that I can play this game that I love to do. I'll be on pins and needles for the next day or so. I think everything happens for a reason."