INDIANAPOLIS — Disaster appeared to be averted Thursday night in the most meaningless game of the year when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton got sandwiched in the pocket in his only drive of the game and left the preseason finale flexing his throwing hand.
But as the Colts took a 14-13 halftime lead, head coach Marvin Lewis said Dalton is fine for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener in Baltimore and would have returned Thursday if it had been a regular-season game.
"I'm good, no problem at all. I just took a hit on the arm, and my hand got feeling a little numb, sort of like getting hit on your funny bone," Dalton said. "But it's fine now. There was just no point in taking any more snaps in this particular game."
The Colts came from behind to take a 20-16 lead with 6:54 left in the game when Colts No. 3 quarterback Chandler Harnish hit tight end Dominique Jones on a 42-yard touchdown pass that was made possible by missed tackles from rookie cornerback T.J. Heath and rookie safety George Iloka.
The Bengals had one last chance for a go-ahead score but No. 3 quarterback Zac Robinson's 4th-and-11 pass to wide receiver Vidal Hazelton fell incomplete and the Colts ran out the clock for the 20-16 win.
The Bengals backups took a 10-0 lead on the Colts with 11:02 left in the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on quarterback Bruce Gradkowski 's 10-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones.
And the Bengals took a 16-14 lead with 8:11 left in the third quarter on Mike Nugent's 48-yard field goal. Rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu made a couple of catches in a 16-play drive that was kept alive by a nice pitch and catch from Robinson to wide receiver Ryan Whalen.
Harnisch picked on the backup DBs with a 32-yard pass that set up the first touchdown and Bengals rookie cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris set up the second when he was called for 17-yard pass interference in the end zone. On the same play rookie safety George Iloka was called for hitting wide receiver Kris Adams in the head.
The Bengals cut the lead to 14-13 when running back Cedric Peerman broke a kickoff with 45 seconds left in the half for 43 yards and Jones hauled in a 16-yarder to set up Nugent's 48-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
Before he got hurt Dalton led a sharp drive in which he hit three of four passes for 26 yards: A 14-yard catch-and-run to wide receiver A.J. Green, a six-yarder to fullback Chris Pressley on a naked bootleg off play-action, and a six-yard throw to wide receiver Armon Binns over the middle.
Dalton got drilled on his fourth pass and the ball fluttered out. He started to limp off the field, but was told by the sideline to get on the ground to stop the clock and he went down like a sack of potatoes.
He flexed his right hand for the doctors and then went to the bench where he was seen talking to his teammates and not going to the locker room. But he was done for the night and Gradkowski finished off a drive that resulted in Nugent's 37-yard field goal that gave the Bengals a 3-0 lead with 8:09 left in the first quarter.
The running game perked up with 27 yards on three carries for running back Brian Leonard in that drive, one a 15-yarder when he broke a tackle at the second level. He also picked up six yards on a power play behind pulling left guard Clint Boling.
That was it for the first group with everybody leaving for the second series but rookie center Trevor Robinson making his first NFL start. He seemed to be holding up, although on the third series he appeared to cause a false start when he didn't snap the ball.
It was also a short night for the first team defense, too.
The Bengals survived an illegal contact call on cornerback Leon Hall working against wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the game's first snap. No. 1 pick Andrew Luck went three-and-out after he got pressured by defensive tackle Geno Atkins on first down and watched tackle Domata Peko and middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy drop running back Donald Brown for a two-yard loss on second down before he had to throw a checkdown to tight end Coby Fleener on third down to force the punt.
On the next series all the No. 1s but safety Taylor Mays and SAM backer Manny Lawson were off the field.
Gradkowski hooked up with Jones for the second straight game, giving the fifth-rounder from Cal a team-leading six catches for 121 yards as his superb preseason continued. Moments before he beat cornerback Josh Gordy and dropped pass in the end zone. This time Jones ran outside, Gordy got turned around inside and Jones had a clear shot for the catch.
It was a nice drive for the rookie receivers. On fourth-and-one, Sanu made a leaping catch on the sideline, snatching it away from cornerback D.J. Johnson to keep the drive going. Jones had 30 yards at the half on three catches before returning a punt 15 yards in the fourth quarter. And Sanu had his biggest game of the preason when he made his eighth catch for 80 yards with four and a hallf minutes left.
It was also a good night for rookie middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Smelling a roster spot, he had a sack and then dropped a punt return for no gain within moments in the second quarter.
Rookie running back Daniel Herron blocked a punt deep in Colts territory in the fourth quarter, but he was called for offsides and he later lost a fumble.
Whalen, locked in a roster fight, put on a good show for Luck, his quarterback at Stanford. With Zac Robinson hitting 10 of his first 11 passes for 87 yards, Whalen had four catches for 41 yards in the third quarter.
The Bengals rotated their offensive line throughout the night with Anthony Colllins and Dennis Roland taking shots at left guard, as well as at left tackle and right tackle, respectively.
The Colts looked to salt it away when they recovered a fumbled snap at the Bengals 19 with 6:50 left in the game after center Reggie Stephens couldn't execute a shotgun snap. But the Colts fumbled it right back and Iloka recovered.
PREGAME NOTES: All signs are pointing to Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis playing Thursday night's preseason finale pretty cautiously with the regular-season opener in Baltimore 12 days away.
Quarterback Andy Dalton says he'll play only one series and it's believed that such inactive players as middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (foot) could have played. It looks like the first defense isn't going to play all that much, either.
The Ones may have been more intense in pregame, where left end Carlos Dunlap and tight end Jermaine Gresham went through rigorous drills before taking a seat.
Thursday's inactive list: Cornerbacks Adam Jones, Jason Allen, Dre Kirkpatrick, running backs Bernard Scott and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, center Kyle Cook, tight end Jermaine Gresham, defensive linemen Pat Sims, Robert Geathers, Carlos Dunlap and Nick Hayden.
Maualuga was a captain even though he didn't play. The others were wide receivers Brandon Tate and Andrew Hawkins, right tackle Andre Smith, and cornerback Nate Clements.