What we saw in Colts’ 27-26 win over Bengals

Christine Michael #38 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball during the first half of a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on August 30, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What we saw in the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-26 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium. First though, two dates to keep in mind: Preseason rosters of 90 must be trimmed to 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday, and the Colts and Bengals reconvene Sept. 9 in Lucas Oil Stadium for games that count.

How it ended

Third-string quarterback Phillip Walker has taken impressive strides since joining the Colts last season as an undrafted rookie out of Temple. He was the catalyst in the come-from-behind victory, passing for 263 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

After the Colts fell into a 26-14 fourth-quarter hole, Walker led them on two scoring drives sandwiched around his lone interception. He capped a 9-play, 76-yard drive with a 7-yard TD to tight end Erik Swoope, then delivered the game-winning 28-yard TD pass to Cobi Hamilton with 1:12 remaining. Walker needed only five plays to navigate 71 yards. His 39-yard hookup with tight end Ross Travis produced a first-and-10 at the Bengals 28 and set up Hamilton’s heroics.

Travis suffered an apparent injury to his right knee on the play and was taken to the locker room.

The win pushed the Colts’ record to 3-1, their first winning preseason since 2003.

Winning audition?

The most pressing issue was determining – finally – the starting right tackle. Joe Haeg was the fourth different starter in four games, and probably secured that position. The 2016 fifth-round draft pick played the entire first half and while not perfect, held up nicely. He was replaced in the third quarter by Tyreek Burwell.

The coaching staff might prefer Denzelle Good as the starter for the season opener, but his preseason was delayed by a hamstring injury and complicated when he injured his left knee last week against San Francisco. It’s doubtful Good will be ready for the opener.

Haeg doesn’t lack experience. He has appeared in 31 games and spread 29 career starts among right tackle (20), right guard (7) and left guard (20). The team values Haeg’s versatility, which was on display during the preseason. He started at left tackle at Seattle and right guard against San Francisco, and saw action as a backup center.

Pascal’s push

The fourth and fifth receiver spots are up for grabs, and Zach Pascal might have grabbed one of them by showing his value in two areas.

Initially, the 6-2, 219-pounder was a viable option in the passing game with three receptions for 33 yards and a 2-yard touchdown from Jacoby Brissett. But he also continued to emerge on special teams. Pascal handled punt returns in the first half, and shared kickoff returns in the second half with rookie Nyheim Hines. Along with showing solid ball security – that’s priority 1 – Pascal returned a punt 16 yards, the Colts’ longest of the preseason. His first kickoff return went for 27 yards.

Pascal has been a steady presence since being claimed off waivers (Tennessee) in June. He spent last season on the Titans’ practice squad.

Enough from Fountain?

Speaking of those final two receiver spots, we’re wondering if rookie Reece Fountain’s last impression was strong enough. The fifth-round draft pick was targeted four times against Cincinnati and came away with three catches for 32 yards.

Fountain finished the preseason with just four catches and 46 yards.

Defensive dilemma

It’s anybody’s guess whether any backup defensive linemen did enough to sway the opinions of coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard.

Ryan Delaire, who generated two sacks last week against San Francisco, provided occasional pressure in passing situations as did Tarell Basham. However, Basham suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return.

If Basham’s injury isn’t short-term, the Colts might face additional issues when cutting the roster to 53. Other players who might make the cut to 53 but not be ready for the opener include running back Marlon Mack (hamstring), Good, rookie defensive tackle Tyquan Lewis (foot), linebacker Anthony Walker (groin) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (hand).

Back-up back?

If a hamstring injury keeps Mack out of the season opener, the veteran running back presence probably is Christine Michael. He’s heading into his sixth season and did nothing to endanger his roster spot. Michael rushed five times for a team-high 41 yards and caught one pass for 20 yards. His 32-yard run to the Bengals’ 1-yard line in the second quarter set up Brissett’s 2-yard TD to Pascal.

Michael went to the locker room in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. He was cleared to return, but the Colts kept him on the sideline.

With Robert Turbin serving a four-game suspension to open the season, the Colts’ healthy running backs might be Michael and rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins.

This and that

The Colts lost the giveaway-takeaway battle – a minus-3 – and paid the price. The Bengals scored 13 points off the three takeaways. Turbin and Branden Oliver lost fumbles while quarterback Walker suffered a fourth-quarter interception. . . . Brissett finished the preseason on an uptick. He completed 8-of-12 passes for 68 yards and the 2-yard TD to Pascal. . . . The Colts finished with 429 total yards on offense.

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