Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Cincinnati Bengals in their preseason finale Thursday night at Indianapolis.
The main objective in the final game is to avoid injury, but first-round pick John Ross exited with a left knee injury and third-string quarterback Jeff Driskel left after hurting his thumb on his first series.
And while the Bengals were trying to pick a winner in the kicking battle, they exposed backup quarterback AJ McCarron to multiple shots in the fourth quarter as they drove into field goal range three times, only to miss all three kicks
to drop a 7-6 decision
at Lucas Oil Stadium.
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Randy Bullock and rookie fifth-round pick Jake Elliott spent the entire preseason making it tough on the coaches to pick a winner in the kicker battle by combing 10 of their first 11 field goal attempts.
Then they turned it into a battle of attrition when they combined to miss three field goals in the final minutes.
Elliott missed a 46-yard attempt that would have given the Bengals the lead with 4:42 left. He actually connected from 41, but a false start penalty on Ryan Glasgow pushed it back 5 yards, and Elliott was wide left.
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Then Bullock missed left from 47 with 1:45 to go.
“We weren’t real clean on the operation,” he said. “We’ve got to be better as a unit there. We were all slow; laces were back. We were all kind of out of sync.”
But the Bengals had one more chance when got the ball back at their own 13 with 44 seconds to go. McCarron drove the offense to the Indy 42 to set up Elliott with a 60-yard try with two seconds to go. But he was wide left again.
“I hit it really well,” he said. “It looked like it was going right down the middle all the way and then it just kind of curled off on me in the end.”
Elliott finished the preseason 4 of 7, while Bullock went 6 of 7. Both kickers were perfect on extra points.
“It absolutely is frustrating,” Bullock said of having his only miss come on his final kick. “I think I’ve had a strong camp. I don’t make decisions. I’ll leave that up to them.
“I feel strongly that I’m good enough to play in this league,” he added. “Feel like I’m strong enough to play here. If I don’t, I’ll play somewhere else.”
Rookie first-round pick John Ross left the game in the first half with a knee injury and did not return. He told the team website he would have to wait until having an MRI to know the extent of the injury, but Ross walked to the locker room under his own power and returned to the sideline still in uniform.
He caught his pass of the preseason on the opening possession, a 6-yarder from McCarron. And he added a 25-yard reverse on the second series – the team’s longest run of the preseason – but left a few plays after that.
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After Driskel left with a thumb injury sustained on a sack, he returned in street clothes with his right hand in cast. That likely will have ramifications when the Bengals get to the 53-man roster limit Saturday, as Driskel was poised to make to the cut for the second year in a row but likely now will be headed to Injured Reserve.
“I was fired up,” Driskel said. “We had a good plan going in. We moved the ball there on the one drive. We were moving it pretty good, and unfortunately I got hurt. It’s part of the game.”
Rookie defensive end Jordan Willis sacked Indianapolis quarterback Scott Tolzien on the Colts’ opening drive of the game to finish the preseason with the team lead of four.
The third-round pick also became the first player in the Marvin Lewis era to record at least one sack in all four preseason games. He finished a half sack shy of the highest total in the Lewis era, which is 4.5 set by Geno Atkins in 2010. Margus Hunt also had four sacks in 2014.
Rookie sixth-round linebacker Jordan Evans started at WIL linebacker and played the entire first half, finishing with an impressive stat line of six tackles, one for loss, a quarterback hit and two passes defended.
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“(Evans) demonstrated what we’ve seen from him the entire time,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “I can’t be more excited about a young player than I am about him. Both of those guys (Willis and Evans), and Carl (Lawson). Those guys are ready to go, and that’s what we need to have. They’re going to play and be a part of the football team and be a part of the 46-man roster on Sundays and they’ve earned an opportunity to be there.”
With Jeremy Hill and Tra Carson injured and Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon sitting out, Jarveon Williams was the only available tailback for the Bengals.
That resulted in a substantial workload for the undrafted rookie from Texas-San Antonio, with Williams finishing with 117 rushing yards on 27 carries and a team high five catches for 42 yards.
“I knew I was going to get most of the workload and I was ready,” Williams said. “I think I capitalized on my opportunities today. I think I opened a lot of eyes, showed that I can compete at a high level.”
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Williams had an 18-yard run in the first quarter, which would have equaled the longest rush of the preseason for the Bengals had Ross not ripped off a 25-yarder on a reverse five plays earlier.
He also lost a fumble in the second quarter.
The 13 combined points were the fewest in a Bengals preseason game since a 7-6 win against New England in 2009 and tied for the second fewest in franchise history.
The lowest was a 7-3 loss at Miami in 1975.