INDIANAPOLIS - If Mike Nugent's leg is deemed healthy, he may have very well earned the Bengals kicking job in Thursday night's preseason finale when he nailed a 52-yarder from the right hash to cap the Bengals' first drive and against the Colts about five minutes in at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And running back Cedric Peerman, regarded to be in a roster scrum with James Johnson for the last spot, upgraded his condition to more than satisfactory when he broke a 93-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to break a halftime tie. Jerome Simpson also went a long way in securing one of the last two receiver spots when he caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jordan Palmer to give the Bengals a 23-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Peerman and rookie wide receiver Dez Briscoe then went back-to-back with big plays to break it open for a 30-21 lead as the clock neared six minutes left. Peerman ran a kick back 50 yards (the third different Bengal to have at least a 31-yarder in the last two games) and on the next snap Palmer hit Briscoe for a 50-yard touchdown pass after Briscoe's stop-and-go made cornerback Tarrail Lambert stumble.
The Colts made things interesting with a late four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brandstater to wide receiver Brandon James (his third touchdown reception of the game) with 1:39 remaining to cut the Bengals lead to 30-28. Indianapolis then tried an onside kick but Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley recovered.
The Bengals ran three running plays forcing the Colts to burn their all their timeouts. Bengals punter Kevin Huber kicked it to the Colts 12 with 29 seconds left and Indianapolis took over but the Colts were only able to get to their 43 before time ran out. The Bengals finish the preseason with a 3-2 mark.
Dave Rayner did his best to hang with Nugent, ending the second series with his longest field goal of the preseason, a 39-yarder that gave the Bengals a 6-0 lead with 2:50 left in the first quarter.
With both teams trying to get out of Dodge without any injuries 10 days before the opener, field goals were all that were available in the first half and the Colts tied it at 6-6 at halftime on Adam Vinatieri's 36-yarder with 53 seconds left in the half.
Nugent, saddled with a groin problem for two weeks earlier in the preseason, tied his longest field goal with a 54-yarder in Buffalo last Saturday. He said the last time he went 50 back-to-back was at Ohio State, a 55-yarder and 50-yarder. He also made his first attempt of the preseason under 50 with his 34-yarder that made it 23-13 with 9:20 left in the game as the Bengals zeroed in on their seventh straight win over the Colts in the preseason finale.
"I feel great. I feel healthy, and I'm trying to get 100 percent healthy," Nugent said. "Not to take things too far — it's just preseason — but I feel that working with Darrin (Simmons) has made me a better kicker. I didn't kick the way I wanted to the last couple of years, but Darrin and I worked on some things, and I really feel I'm hitting the ball more consistently."
In quarterback Carson Palmer and the first offense's only appearance against the Colts backups, Palmer hit four of five passes for 28 yards, two going to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco for 18 yards. Running back Cedric Benson had six yards on three carries and on the snap before the field goal, Palmer tried to hit wide receiver Terrell Owens long down the left sideline. Owens had a step on Lambert, a third-team corner, but he turned inside and the ball was overthrown and outside.
Nugent then followed his field goal with a kickoff to the Colts 1.
"I just can't wait until a week from Sunday," Palmer said. "You get teased playing just a series, and you want to play more. Nothing counts to this point, but I really like our chances to be a much more potent offense than we were for most of last year. I'm just fired up, wanting the intensity of the regular season."
The Bengals' first defense only worked the first series, which yielded a punt. The second series saw Rey Maualuga slide from SAM to middle linebacker. With center Kyle Cook (foot) resting for the opener, Evan Mathis started at center and stayed with the second team. He got called for a hands to the face penalty on the second drive.
Rayner followed his field goal with a kick to the Colts 1 and tight end Chase Coffman got the Bengals good field position when he made the stop at the 16.
Andre Smith figured to get a lot of work at right tackle. Early in the second quarter he let rookie defensive end Jerry Hughes get wide of him on a third down and quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan got chased out of the pocket for an incompletion that set up a punt.
Simpson, looking as confident as he's ever looked on the field in his three seasons, made a leaping 18-yard catch over the middle on third-and-10 on a throw from O'Sullivan midway through the second quarter. But the second line had trouble blocking for backup running back Bernard Scott and the drive died when a third-down slant to wide receiver Andre Caldwell came up a yard short.
Safety Kyries Hebert, battling for the last safety spot if the Bengals decide to keep 10 defensive backs, had a good-one, bad-one on the same play in the second quarter. He overran wide receiver Blair White's catch on a slant inside rookie cornerback Johnny Sears that ended up in a 52-yard reception. But Hebert hung with it and ran him down and the Bengals held to force Vinatieri's 23-yard field goal that made it 6-3 with 4:30 left in the half.
Vinatieri struck again to tie it on drive spurred by Sears' late hit on a receiver.
More proof that the Bengals may not keep a fullback on their roster: Rookie Joe Tronzo's first appearance of the night came midway through the first quarter on a punt.
"I liked what our guys did on both sides of the ball early in the game," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "We want to convert those scoring opportunities into touchdowns, obviously, rather than taking field goals, but we got down there, and the defense contained them.
"But right now, I'm a little disappointed in the inability of our second and third units to control the line of scrimmage."
Before the Peerman bolt, the backup line couldn't get any kind of a running game going. Scott had seven carries on seven yards and Peerman could manage just seven yards on three carries in the first half. O'Sullivan got sacked once in the half on a play in which rookie right tackle Otis Hudson appeared to get overwhelmed by rookie tackle Rico Matthews. Hudson also picked up a hold early in the third quarter.
Safety Rico Murray, battling with Hebert, picked up a hold on the second half's opening kickoff. As the game lurched into early into the third quarter, bubble guys such as running back James Johnson and wide receiver Dez Briscoe had yet to play. Briscoe's first appearance later came on a punt in which Simpson got called for a hold. But Simpson, who also got called for a hold to negate James Johnson's 20-yard plus run, answered with his touchdown and 61 yards on his first five catches.
Jordan Palmer checked into the game with 11:20 left in the third quarter and on his second snap he gave it to Peerman. Peerman went right, shot through the middle and ran past the outstretched arms of Lambert 10 yards into the secondary and didn't stop.
O'Sullivan, under heavy scrutiny with a 55.4 passer rating coming into the game, left with 100 for Thursday on 9-of-12 passing for 102 yards.
The Bengals return game had another big game. Shipley knocked off the third punt return of the preseason of at least 36 yards. Shipley, who had a 63-yarder in the opener, corked off a 36-yarder midway through the third quarter.
The Colts cut the lead to 20-13 with 5:01 left in the third quarter when Brandstater hit James for a 22-yard touchdown pass when James ran past cornerback David Jones.
The same combination burned the Bengals with 6:28 left in the game. Working against Sears, James got loose for a 23-yard touchdown pass in the left corner and he caught the two-point coversion conversion on the same side to cut the lead to 23-21.
Simpson had a wild night. The Colts got the ball down there because a punt bounced up and hit him in the helmet.
PREGAME NOTES: With cutdown day less than 48 hours away and the Bengals trying to find their opening day kicker as well as backups at quarterback and defensive backs, they first had to play Thursday night's preseason finale against the Colts here at Lucas Oil Stadiium.
It looked liked most of the players shelved for the game don't have to worry about having a spot next week on the final 53-man roster. The two most vulnerable are fullback Fui Vakapuna (shoulder) and wide receiver Maurice Purify (knee). Purify has only played in one game this preseason, Vakapuna none and one option for both of them is injured reserve.
The Bengals planned to open the game with the starters, but don't look for many to play beyond the first two series. They opted to rest center Kyle Cook (foot) for the Sept. 12 opener in New England and started Evan Mathis in his spot.
The other guys also appear to be ready for New England but are taking the night off: Cornerbacks Brandon Ghee (concussion) and Adam Jones (neck), safety Chinedum Ndukwe (foot), tackle Anthony Collins (foot) and defensive linemen Robert Geathers (foot), Frostee Rucker (hamstring) and Carlos Dunlap (knee). Left end Jon Fanene (unknown) didn't dress (Michael Johnson got the start) and neither did cornerback Morgan Trent (ankle).
Running back Brian Leonard (foot) probably won't play against the Pats, but he could be ready for the Paul Brown Stadium opener Sept. 19 against Baltimore.
Ghee says he feels well enough to play but he has to undergo more tests to get cleared. He'd like to tell you about the play in the third quarter in which he got knocked out tackling Bills running back Chad Simpson Saturday night, but he can't.
"The first thing I remember is Paul (Sparling) and all the other trainers around me," Ghee said. "What'd they say? I was out five minutes? I've watched it on film a few times and he hit me on the side of the neck. I feel like I can go out there right now, but they have to wait a couple of more days."
The Bengals came out in white jerseys and black pants and head coach Marvin Lewis sent out a group of captains that could be at midfield for the opener: Quarterback Carson Palmer, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, defensive tackle Domata Peko, linebacker Dhani Jones and wide receiver Quan Cosby. The Colts won the toss and Rayner put it a yard deep in the end zone.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning kept his streak going of sitting out the finale and Curtis Painter got the nod.