INDIANAPOLIS – The Bengals finished off their preseason with a 27-7 win at Indianapolis against the Colts Thursday night. Now comes the tough part.
The Bengals and every other NFL team have to cut their rosters to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Saturday. That means the Bengals have to make 22 transactions to reach the limit. Spots can be reduced by placing players on injured reserve (ending their season), the physically unable to perform list (PUP, which means they are out for at least the first six weeks of the season) or outright releasing them.
Teams can establish a practice squad of up to eight players on Sunday.
Head coach Marvin Lewis said after the game that there were probably seven or eight roster spots he and the coaching staff would have to finalize by Saturday. The Bengals open up the regular season at Baltimore on Sept. 7.
"I think we got accomplished what we needed to get accomplished and we seemed to come through the game healthy, which is good," said Lewis. "Now everything is pointed towards Baltimore. That's the most important part."
The Colts did not play any of their starters as well as sitting several other key reserves. Quinn Gray started at quarterback for Indianapolis, with Jared Lorenzen playing the second and third quarters. Gray returned for the fourth quarter.
The Bengals didn't rest nearly that many starters but were still without three key players on defense and offensive starters Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Running back Rudi Johnson, who has been supplanted as the starter by Chris Perry, dressed for the game but did not play. Johnson has been the subject of trade rumors this week and his future with the team is uncertain. He is due a base salary of $3.2 million this season and could end up being cut if the Bengals decide they are comfortable enough with Perry, Kenny Watson and DeDe Dorsey as their halfbacks. Rookie James Johnson is a viable candidate for the practice squad.
Johnson did not play this preseason after suffering a slight hamstring strain the first week of training camp, an injury that lingered until he returned to practice this week. Both Johnson and Houshmandzadeh, who also missed the majority of the preseason with hamstring troubles but practiced this week, warmed up with the team prior to the game.
It was Lewis' decision to not play the two. "We'll see how things go. The one thing I do know is I'll be ready for Week 1. Regardless of how it goes down I'll be ready," said Johnson after the game. "I came out and worked out before the game, doing drills and stuff before the game and it felt good. Then I did pre-game warm-ups with the team and it felt very good. Like I said whatever happens I'll be ready for Week 1. You know one thing, I'm a business man."
Ryan Fitzpatrick started in place of Palmer and led the Bengals on a 21-play drive on their opening possession. They used 11 minutes and 22 seconds of the clock to score their first touchdown. Perry ran through a gaping hole up the middle of the line for 5-yard touchdown run. Shayne Graham's extra point made it 7-0.
The lead increased to 14-0 two minutes later when Fitzpatrick and Glenn Holt connected on a 9-yard touchdown pass. The score was set up when defensive tackle Domata Peko got the lineman's trifecta with a sack of Gray, forced fumble and fumble recovery to set the offense up at the 10-yard line.
"It was a little harder to evaluate because he wasn't playing with what hopefully would be the regular cast around him would he be playing but he did a good job of managing the game, the ball was going in the right spots and when things break down he's able to move the team with his feet a little bit, which is an added bonus and a great quality to have," said Lewis. "I think he did a nice job. Everybody is real comfortable with Ryan in there at quarterback. We got a chance to see tonight him start the game and do like he did. He had a good week of preparation and he comes through and plays."
Fitzpatrick ends the preseason with a passer rating of 104.2. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 218 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He showed all preseason that the Bengals can have faith in him to run the offense this season should he ever be called on to do so in place of Palmer.
"I'm pleased with how the preseason went personally," said Fitzpatrick. "I know there are a lot of things we still have to work on and that I have to work on but overall I think things went real well."