With their starters resting for the trip to New York that opens the season in 10 days, the Bengals backups made one final foray for a roster spot in Thursday night's pre-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium before 55,184 that saw the Colts' 13-10 victory.
The Bengals had taken a 10-6 lead with 1:55 left in the game, but the Colts took just 1:15 to get the win when quarterback Stephen Morris beat an all-out blitz with a well-blocked 25-yard screen pass to wide receiver Tevaun Smith for a touchdown through a wide open middle with 40 seconds left.
During that drive the Bengals suffered their first accepted penalty of the game when rookie cornerback Tony McRae was called for a four-yard pass interference penalty.
"Our focus is on the New York Jets, and I felt that our main guys had accomplished what they needed to accomplish in the preseason," said head coach Marvin Lewis of icing the starters. "It was best to let them have the night off tonight."
On third-and-nine from the Colts 15 with 1:55 left, quarterback Keith Wenning hit rookie wide receiver Alonzo Russell on a slant over the middle and when 190-pound cornerback Christopher Milton tried to tackle him high, the 206-pound Russell ripped away from him for the winning touchdown.
It was the third third down conversion for Wenning in the drive, the first two going to ubiquitous rookie wide receiver Alex Erickson, the first a 17-yarder on another slant over the middle on third-and-three and 22-yarder deep on third-and-nine.
The Colts went ahead, 6-3, with 7:22 left in the game and the Colts' Adam Vinatieri almost didn't get a chance to kick the points because early in the drive the ball was on the floor on a botched handoff.
Bengals middle linebacker Trevor Roach, who had 10 tackles in the first half and 11 for the game, had a chance to recover at the Colts 25, but it bounded out of his hands. A few plays later wide receiver Chester Rogers caught a 46-yard pass racing past rookie cornerback Darius Hillary to set up the field goal.
After the Bengals backup defense forced two turnovers inside their 10 in a scoreless first half, the Bengals eked out Mike Nugent's 21-yard field goal on the first drive of the first quarter set up by two big Jake Kumerow catches on third down from two different quarterbacks.
Vinatieri, the NFL's oldest player, hit a spry 46-yard to tie it at 3 late in the third quarter.
Andy Dalton, Andy Dalton's backup, got the start and left in favor of No. 3 Keith Wenning and when Wenning got drilled in the pocket throwing a pass in the third quarter and had the wind knocked out of him, McCarron came back in and hit Kumerow on a 23-yard pass running down the right side to convert a third-and-10.
When Wenning came back a few plays later, he found Kumerow running across the middle to the right for 18 more yards on third-and-five. Kumerow had 60 yards on three catches as he bids for a practice squad spot. A hamstring issue early in camp that took him out of a game put him behind in the receivers competition that seems to be solidified heading into Saturday's final cut to 53.
A leaping interception by rookie linebacker Nick Vigil at the 4 with 29 seconds left in the first half off a pass over the middle by Morris kept things scoreless.
Vigil, the third-rounder from Utah State, has been doing it all training camp backing up Vincent Rey at WILL backer. His specialty is pass defense and after he made his drop in the middle of the field, Vigil timed his leap for the pick.
"I give all the credit to our D-coordinator (Paul Guenther)," Vigil said. "He pretty much told us what play they were likely to run in that spot. So he got us all in the right places, and I was able to get up and make the catch."
Tackle DeShawn Williams was a beast in the stand, teaming with end Margus Hunt to blow up a screen and later hitting Morris as the Colts were called for holding.
"I would have liked to have seen us play better on both sides of the ball on third downs. We haven't made enough offensively, and we've given up too many defensively," Lewis said. "But Nick Vigil made a nice play for us at the end, so we go in tied."
McCarron and rookie wide receiver Cody Core already have spots on the Bengals' final 53 and they hooked up for the biggest play of the first series, a 24-yarder that featured about 20 yards after the catch on Core's burst up the seam past grasping cornerback Tevin Mitchell.
That series ended in a punt, but another productive punt return by rookie wide receiver Alex Erickson got the second series jump-started. Of his five returns this season it was Erickson's shortest, but the 12-yarder was another quick dash up the middle that featured a couple of missed defenders.
The Bengals played it pretty safely with McCarron behind an offensive line that had to be revamped on the run Sunday night in Jacksonville when backup center T.J. Johnson left with a concussion and with Johnson out again the Bengals were trying to gut it out with just six offensive linemen.
Just more evidence that McCarron is going nowhere in a trade no matter how many times the Vikings call. Just the fact he started Thursday is evidence enough, but when he pitched to rookie running back Tra Carson on third-and-four from the Colts 44, it was another chance to protect McCarron.
Then Carson got stuffed on the stretch play as the scoreless game rolled into the second quarter.
The Colts had the best chance to score in the opening period. Old friend Chase Coffman, a former Bengals' third-round pick, hit them for a 27-yard catch down the middle on third down on the first series, but safety Derron Smith forced Colts running back Robert Turbin's fumble and linebacker P.J. Dawson recovered at the Bengals 6.
The second defense opened with Trevor Roach at middle linebacker surrounded by Dawson and Vigil. Margus Hunt and Will Clark were at ends and DeShawn Williams and rookie David Dean at tackles up front. The starting secondary featured Chris Lewis-Harris and Chykie Brown at cornerback and Smith and Josh Shaw at safety.
Shaw, who is the starting nickel corner until Darqueze Dennard (ankle) gets back for the opener, was out by the second quarter and rookie safety Clayton Fejedelem made a nice tackle on a third down pass over the middle to force a punt.
This time Erickson chose to make a fair catch at his own seven, his first fair catch of the year. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, envisioning the rookie free agent from Wisconsin as a core special teamer on game day, tried him out at gunner in the first half, the key coverage spot on the punt cover team that is split out the widest.
PRE-GAME NOTES: McCarron started the game with second-year Trey Hopkins at left tackle, undrafted rookie Alex Cooper at left guard, fifth-rounder Christian Westerman at right guard and undrafted rookies Trip Thurman at center and Aaron Epps at right tackle. Keith Wenning replaced McCarron on the last play of the half.
Also out: Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson III, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft.
Even though they weren't playing, quarterback Andy Dalton, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, and Adam Jones (not in uniform) were captains. So were McCarron and long snapper Clark Harris. ...
One backup expected to be in the defensive line rotation during the season, 2015 fourth-rounder Marcus Hardison, was a surprise scratch because of an unknown injury. The severity of the injury and the impact it has on Saturday's cut to 53 isn't clear.
Another backup expected to get plenty of time during the season, running back Rex Burkhead (shoulder), was a scratch for the second straight game, but he's expect to be OK for the opener. (Look for rookie running backs Tra Carson and Bronson Hill to get all the carries with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill expected to sit.
Other than that, there were no surprises on Thursday's injury list. Running back Cedric Peerman underwent surgery Thursday morning for his fractured forearm and they'll sort out his medical and roster status on Friday after getting a better idea of his recovery timetable.
The guy holding his breath on Thursday is special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. Many of his core players are going to get the bulk of Thursday's snaps and he'll be crossing his fingers that Peerman remains his only casualty.
With backup center T.J. Johnson out with a concussion, the Bengals' back-liners on the offensive line were under some heat after struggling in Jacksonville Sunday night. It didn't help that only six of them are healthy with rookie guard Alex Redmond (knee) sitting out.
So that meant backup quarterback AJ McCarron started the game with second-year Trey Hopkins at left tackle, undrafted rookie Alex Cooper at left guard, fifth-rounder Christian Westerman at right guard and undrafted rookies Trip Thurman at center and Aaron Epps at right tackle.
Also out: Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft.
Even though they weren't playing, quarterback Andy Dalton, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, and Adam Jones (not in uniform) were captains. So were starting quarterback AJ McCarron and long snapper Clark Harris.
As expected the second defense opened with Trevor Roach at middle linebacker surrounded by Nick Vigil and P.J. Dawson .
Old friend Chase Coffman, a former Bengals' third-round pick, hit them for a 27-yard catch down the middle on third down on the first series, but safety Derron Smith forced Colts running back Robert Turbin's fumble and Dawson recovered at the Bengals 6.
Cincinnati Bengals host the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium in week 4 of the preseason 9/1/2016