AJ McCarron, P.J. Dawson shine as Bengals end preseason with win

INDIANAPOLIS -- Any time his football team can get through a preseason without major injuries, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has to be pleased.

He had good reason to be all smiles Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. By all accounts, his team appears to have come out of the preseason largely unscathed and will go into the regular season reasonably healthy. There is still some uncertainty about when defensive end Michael Johnson and linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be available to play, but otherwise the Bengals avoided any further health issues during this always-ambiguous time of year.

Cincinnati finished the preseason Thursday night following a 9-6 win over the Indianapolis Colts that was powered by kicker Mike Nugent's leg, a series of offensive rotations and a stingy defensive performance that also gave Lewis reason to be proud. Unlike past preseason games, the Bengals didn't play their starters at all. This was an entirely backup-driven game.

Here are some other quick thoughts on the Bengals' win over the Colts:

QB depth chart: Unchanging. Although he didn't start, Andy Dalton in fact remains the Bengals' first-teamer at the quarterback position. Like other starting offensive players, he didn't participate in Thursday's preseason finale. That didn't prevent them, however, from going through a lively, uptempo drive in a pseudo practice about two hours before the game. The session was so high energy that numerous players visibly sweated through their shirts. Since this was a game run by backups, it fell on second-year quarterback AJ McCarron's shoulders to lead the offense. He participated in nine series, leading a pair of drives that ended in field goals. Along with being sacked four times behind an offensive line that included second- and third-team players, McCarron was 15-for-28 for 219 yards. Much like he did last week, McCarron proved he could be a solid enough backup for Dalton.

Maybe that guy can start: In a game that we knew would feature backups long before it started, it's kind of difficult to call any of them a potential starter right now. But if there was a reserve who played and could be a starter in an emergency situation this season, outside linebacker P.J. Dawson appears to be it. The rookie third-rounder was seemingly everywhere on the field, harassing Colts quarterbacks and ball carriers alike. He played the entire game and finished with nine tackles and two sacks. His first sack came on an A-gap blitz that had him and middle linebacker Trevor Roach cross just before the sack.

Who got hurt? As we mentioned earlier, the Bengals avoided serious injury in the finale. They did lose outside linebacker Marquis Flowers in the first half to a shoulder injury. Rookie tight end Tyler Kroft also left briefly after experiencing a stinger in the second quarter. He was back on the field by the third.

A player who looks amazing: Cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris hasn't played much in his four-year Bengals career, but he made the most of his full game of snaps. Lewis-Harris had arguably one of his best performances in stripes, recording five tackles and breaking up two passes. One of his deflections came with the Colts deep in the red zone. It ricocheted into the hands of safety Shiloh Keo, who recorded the Bengals' second interception of the game. Lewis-Harris had the other, picking off a pass that tipped off Roach's hands. Lewis-Harris still is overshadowed by at least four other corners.

Rookie watch: Defensive tackle Marcus Hardison kept up his solid preseason campaign by recording a key fumble recovery in the game's final four minutes. On the play, linebacker Chris Carter knocked loose the football from Colts quarterback Bryan Bennett's hand as he recorded a sack. As soon as the ball hit the turf during what was a tied game, Hardison dove on top of it at Indianapolis' 34-yard line. It set up Tom Obarski's eventual game-winning 28-yard field goal.

One reason to freak out: You'll want to freak out in a good way over receiver Greg Little if you're a Bengals fan. Believe it or not, the veteran wideout had a solid, consistent preseason. That was evident Thursday when he caught three passes for 46 yards. One of his receptions came after he snatched the ball out of the air just before a corner could make a play on it.

Fumbles an issue for backups: While Hardison may have been key in recovering a late fumble, the Bengals' offensive players still had issues with the turnover themselves, too. Twice they lost fumbles. One of them was from an undrafted rookie who could have ill-afforded to have such a negative play. Terrell Watson's fumble on the second play of the second half ultimately didn't hurt Cincinnati, but it could have adversely affected his standing with the team.

What's next? Up next for Bengals players will be the waiting game. The 75 men on their current roster will find out at some point Saturday morning whether coaches have kept them on the 53-man roster that will go to Oakland for the season opener Sept. 13.