If Jeff Driskel hadn’t already done enough to earn the backup quarterback role for the Cincinnati Bengals, Matt Barkley might have made the decision easier in the preseason finale.
Barkley, a sixth-year player, started Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts but threw four straight incomplete passes before exiting less than five minutes in with a left knee injury that sidelined him the rest of the game.
Driskel, who has been the third-string quarterback the past two seasons, entered in his place and led the Bengals into the red zone for the first score in a 27-26 loss in front of 39,520 fans at Paul Brown Stadium. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown in less than one half of play, giving the Bengals a 20-7 halftime lead before giving way to Logan Woodside in the second half.
Cincinnati’s defense accounted for two turnovers to set up the first two scoring drives and got another takeaway on a Trayvon Henderson interception late in the fourth quarter, but the Colts scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:12 left on a 28-yard pass by Phillip Walker.
Even before Barkley’s injury it seemed Driskel had the edge in the backup quarterback battle, despite the fact he has never played a regular-season game and Barkley brings experience as a six-game starter for the Bears in 2016. Driskel had been the more consistent of the two throughout the preseason, and Barkley didn’t have enough of an opportunity Thursday to change any minds that might have needed to be swayed.
Barkley threw two incomplete passes during a three-and-out first drive and then recovered the next possession with a nice deep ball to John Ross, which Ross dropped in the end zone. His next attempt fell incomplete as well but was negated by a roughing the passer penalty after Kemoko Turay brought him down, causing his injury.
The Bengals training staff tried working on Barkley’s leg on the sideline but he headed to the locker room and was ruled out just as Tra Carson ran in a touchdown from 1 yard out with 6:44 left in the first quarter. Carson’s score made it 7-0 with Jonathan Brown’s extra point. Brandon Bell had recovered a fumble to set up the 10-play, 59-yard drive.
Indianapolis responded with a nine-minute scoring drive to tie it with 12:11 left in the second quarter, but Cincinnati took advantage of a turnover on Hardy Nickerson’s fumble recovery at the Colts’ 3 to retake the lead on a Mark Walton run.
Driskel then found Josh Malone in the corner of the end zone on a 20-yard pass to put the Bengals up 20-7 with two seconds left before halftime.
Brown, who missed a long PAT, added two field goals in the second half to round out the scoring for Cincinnati. Indianapolis outscored the Bengals 20-6 over the final two quarters for the win.
The two teams meet again in the season opener Sept. 9 in Indianapolis. Both finished the preseason 3-1.