Taylor Mays had a smile when asked about his knee he tweaked during his first start for the Bengals in Thursday night's 17-13 loss to the Colts at Paul Brown Stadium.
"From 'SC. Thoroughbreds," said the safety from USC who was walking OK in the locker room saying he was fine.
So was his first extended action since the Bengals traded for him nine days ago. Except for a nasty little incident on the first Colts snap, the 6-3, 230-pound Mays looked good with two tackles and one pass defensed.
The play he got injured on came late in the second quarter and showed what the Bengals like about him. First of all, he did what nobody else did all night and got his hands on Colts wide receiver Taj Smith, the guy that killed the Bengals with 140 yards on eight catches and caught the winner working against cornerback David Pender with 1:08 left in the game.
And Mays did it chasing Smith from across the field after he reversed direction following a short pass. Mays held him to six yards when he got him on the sideline.
"That's what I like doing most; tracking ball carriers. I'm supposed to do that," Mays said.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis warned folks not to pin blame off simply what they saw on Mays' 44-yard pass interference penalty when quarterback Kerry Collins pulled a play-action fake and saw wide receiver David Gilreath running way behind Mays.
With his back to the quarterback, Mays clawed at Gilreath's arms and drew the flag at the Bengals 10.
"There was a miscommunication. It wasn't anybody's fault. It's just something that needs to be worked out," Mays said. "It's good it happened in the preseason. Regardless of what happened, I still could have made a better play on the ball downfield. It's just chasing the receiver at the same time."
All in all, Mays says he's starting to fit in.
"I felt comfortable. I'm happy to be here," he said. "I got some good experience. I hope to keep it going."
CARSON COMEBACK? Amid reports surfacing that have put Carson Palmer's name back in the spotlight about a possible return next week that would force the Bengals' hand, players and head coach Marvin Lewis shrugged following the 17-13 loss to the Colts in the Thursday night preseason finale at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati's next game is the Sept. 11 regular-season opener in Cleveland, the first since the 2003 opener against Denver that Palmer won't start.
And if Palmer is coming back, he hasn't told the Bengals.
"Carson is retired," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "Anything else?"
Well, yes. The two offensive line leaders say the Bengals have moved on to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
"Of course we have; we have to play football," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "As far as I know, he's retired. I don't know anything about that."
Bobbie Williams, who started at right guard for all but three of Palmer's 97 starts, still counts Palmer as a friend, but Dalton as his quarterback.
"We're moving forward as the team we are right now and that's that," Williams said. "This is our team. The guys in here. They have to cut it down to the roster. I'm glad to be a part of it and blocking for (No.) 14.
"That's just business. It is what it is. Carson is a good friend of mine — always has been and always will be. This is business. This is work. All of that is in the past. We're moving forward. There's no more to elaborate on. It is what it is. I like what we have here and it's a real good thing."
LITTLE HAWK FLIES: Big brother Artrell Hawkins, who played cornerback for the Bengals for six seasons, couldn't have been prouder of little brother Andrew after Thursday's game. Artrell is fresh off a stint coaching at the Steelers training camp and now wants to coach for a living. And he was doing that at wide receiver Andrew's locker.
"I told him he's done what he could do," Artell said of Andrew's shot at a roster spot.
And the 5-7, 180-pound veteran of two Grey Cup titles in the CFL couldn't have done much more in his three games. Andrew only caught one ball for 15 yards and he had one special teams tackle, but he was all over the place impressing with his speed, versatility and professionalism. On Thursday he returned his first punt since high school for 32 yards, the Bengals' longest of the season.
"At Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pa.," Hawkins reported of his last punt return.
"Coach (Darrin) Simmons worked with me all week, so I feel a bit more comfortable. ... I hope I get a chance to work on it and stick around."
Hawkins, 24, has a shot at sticking on the practice squad. Artrell, who is nearly 10 years older, has a hard time believing it all.
"Because I'm so much older, he's almost more like a son than a brother, so I think this is crazy," Artrell said. "It's nothing for him. He grew up in this stadium. He came to watch me play. So for me, it's just crazy."
BRUCE THE BOSS: Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski came into Thursday night struggling with a 56.8 passer rating mainly because he'd completed just 57 percent of his passes with a turnstile of guys that were coming and going.
He was still playing with backups but against the Colts he hit his first 10 passes and finished 14-for-17 for 90 yards and an 88.7 rating while leading the Bengals to 10 points on his first two scoring drives of the season. Of those first 10 balls, seven went to different receivers: Two running backs, two tight ends, three wide receivers. He didn't have a completion longer than 14 yards, but like he said, the Colts defense doesn't let teams go deep with its deep Cover 2.
Lewis had two of his top receivers in there with him in Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, but they didn't get a ball.
"One thing about me; I'm not going to show favorites," Gradkowski said. "It felt good to get out there early because you're not sitting around for a half waiting. It felt good to get that rhythm and be with the guys. We had a good week of practice. Getting to know the guys better. Jay (Gruden), the offense. It's starting to click."
Lewis felt it was a matter of Gradkowski relaxing.
"We kept Jerome and Andre in there with Bruce so he could have some opportunity to have some success," Lewis said. "It was good for him to have some weapons on the offensive side. I think he settled down tonight and play more within himself. That's the thing I talked to him about after last week's preseason game. 'Just relax and let the game come to you. Don't be too hyper.' I think the other thing is, we get carried away with being able to communicate with him and we give him a lot of information. He did a good job tonight."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Cornerback Kelly Jennings, fresh off his trade from Seattle, didn't play Thursday and says he's working through a tight hamstring. He says his plan is to be ready for the opener, but he doesn't know if he'll be ready for Sunday's first practice of the work week.
He said he had no inkling he'd get traded but "it's part of the business. I accept it. I see it as another opportunity for me."
» Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is poised to make his first NFL start after a typical rookie preseason of inconsistency. He completed 60 percent of his passes, but for only 5.5 yards per attempt, and he had three picks. But none in the last two games. On Thursday, he missed tight end Jermaine Gresham in the end zone when he threw it behind him, but he converted a third-and-eight with a 20-yard bullet to wide receiver Jordan Shipley.
» The Bengals offense continues to be plagued by turnovers. Dalton had a 12-play, 71-yard drive shortcircuited when rookie receiver A.J. Green fumbled at the Colts 9 on the first unit's second and last series. It was a third-and-eight play, and Green tried to make more out of a short pass shy of the first down, but the ball "slipped out of my hands," Green said when he reversed field.
Green, who finished the preseason with nine catches for 96 yards and the team's only touchdown catch, shook it off.
"I'm picking up the playbook. It's like I'm back at college. The game is a little faster but I think I'm doing pretty well. This team is going to be special. We're young and ready to work. We're all about the team. It's team-oriented."
» A week after running backs Cedric Benson (16 carries for 68 yards) and Bernard Scott (six for 63) lanced the Panthers behind the first offensive line last week, Brian Leonard went on a 4.6-yard binge on his five carries against the Colts with the No. 1 line and finished with 57 yards on 11 carries.
Scott didn't play Thursday since Lewis gave him one last shot to rest his hamstring, which kept him out of three of the four preseason games.
"Bernard has been dealing with the hamstring thing for the entire training camp, basically," Lewis said. "He played last week, but we wanted to keep him fresh and ready to go. The best thing for tonight was to not let him play. He was able to practice all week and we pulled him out to put him on the shelf."