- By Laurel Pfahler Contributing Writer
Many of the players who played big roles during the Cincinnati Bengals’ 27-26 loss to Indianapolis in the preseason finale won’t be on the roster two days later, but a few of them might have earned a spot because of their performance Thursday.
Jeff Driskel, battling for the backup quarterback job, led Cincinnati to a 20-7 halftime advantage before exiting, and the Bengals’ defense set up the first two scores with a pair of fumble recoveries from two linebackers competing for positions.
Cincinnati held the lead until Colts third-string quarterback Phillip Walker found receiver Cobi Hamilton in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown on a 28-yard pass with 1:12 left.
The Bengals finish the preseason 3-1 and now turn toward the regular-season opener – also against the Colts — on Sept. 9 in Indianapolis. Here are five takeaways from the finale:
1. Late mistakes
Cincinnati was two minutes away from a 4-0 finish this preseason when Kevin Huber punted the ball away following a three-and-out by the offense.
The youth of the team especially stood out in three big penalties in the last six minutes – rookie Andrew Brown roughed the passer, Christian Westerman and Justin Murray were called for holds. Then, the lack of depth in the secondary showed as the Colts were able to pick apart the Bengals’ defensive backfield for the game-winning touchdown.
“I wish we would have made a couple plays to finish it out. That is probably the disappointing part,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “The guys that were left were playing their tails off. We just ran out of people and weren’t able to get them stopped. The team will learn from the penalties — the penalties we had in the last drive, the two holding calls and, obviously, the roughing the passer. Those are things you learn from, but now we are here. We got a lot of good (things) accomplished tonight, and now we are moving forward.”
2. Injury hurts Barkley
If Driskel hadn’t already done enough to earn the backup quarterback role, Matt Barkley might have made the decision easier – and not necessarily because of his own doing.
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Barkley, a sixth-year player, started the game but threw four straight incomplete passes (one negated by a roughing the passer penalty and another a John Ross drop in the end zone) before exiting less than five minutes in with a left knee injury that sidelined him the rest of the way. Driskel, who has been the third-string quarterback the past two seasons, entered in his place and immediately led the Bengals into the red zone for the first score.
Driskel remained consistent with the rest of his preseason and completed 14 of 20 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown, a 20-yard pass to Josh Malone in the corner of the end zone in the last seconds before halftime. Logan Woodside started the second half and finished the game.
“It was a bummer to see Matt Barkley go down early in the game, but that’s part of it,” Driskel said. “I hope he’s well. I thought early, I was taking what the defense was giving us. They were playing some deep zones and there were a lot of check downs early. We took advantage of some good field position and were able to punch it in at the end of the half.”
3. Offense stalls
The Bengals offense looked solid through the first half, but two trips to the red zone ended in 21-yard field goals by Jonathan Brown, as the Colts outscored them 20-6 in the second half.
Cincinnati finished with 313 yards of offense, including 105 on the ground (led by Brian Hill’s 38 yards), but five carries resulted in losses, and running backs Mark Walton and Tra Carson both suffered injuries. The line allowed one sack.
Jake Fisher started at left tackle, Christian Westerman at left guard, T.J. Johnson at center, Alex Redmond at right guard and Bobby Hart at right tackle, but the offensive line shuffled around quite a bit. Hart played the first series and was replaced by Cedric Ogbuehi, and Trey Hopkins saw time at guard, as the right side of the line still is undetermined.
“Coach wanted (Bobby Hart) to play, and get ready to play, a game tonight,” Lewis said. “He played a series, but it wasn’t much. He got to go through the process. We got a lot of good work out of Jake (Fisher) and (Cedric Ogbuehi) tonight, and that’s good. Trey (Hopkins) got some work tonight, and (Alex) Redmond got a little work tonight. To play football, you have to play football, so that is good.”
4. Adding to the turnovers
The defense accounted for three turnovers, as Brandon Bell and Hardy Nickerson recovered fumbles in the first half, and safety Trayvon Henderson intercepted a pass late in the game.
Bell and Nickerson are competing for spots at linebacker – Nickerson is listed as Preston Brown’s backup at MIKE and Bell is third on the depth chart at the SAM position.
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Henderson is competing with Brandon Wilson at strong safety but had to be carted off with less than three minutes left after suffering an injury making the interception.
5. Offense on defense
Miami University product Jared Murphy, an undrafted rookie, got some snaps at wide receiver, which is his normal position, but when Henderson went down, Murphy was pulled into action on defense for the Colts’ last drive. He had one tackle to prevent a touchdown at safety but couldn’t make a play on Hamilton on the game-winning score.
“It seemed the quarterback was intending for it to go to the tight end in front of (Hamilton), so that’s why everyone was closing in on him, and it just grazed over him,” Murphy said. “Had I actually played there in the last five years, maybe I could have made a play on it, so that kind of stinks. I felt bad about that, but there’s not much I could do.”
Murphy hadn’t played defensive back since high school but saw some time there on scout team. He said it was a cool experience but never would have imagined he would be on an NFL field playing defense – he finished the preseason with more tackles (one) than catches (zero) in limited action on both sides of the ball.