INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts newcomers may have just made Chuck Pagano's next task that much harder.
With cut-down day looming, rookie quarterback Chandler Harnish, Mr. Irrelevant, led the Colts on three touchdown drives and threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dominique Jones with 6:54 left in the game to give Indy a 20-16 victory over Cincinnati.
Now the Colts coach must decide who stays, who goes and who might return on the practice squad.
"It's extremely tough because these guys have worked their whole lives, dreamed of something their whole lives since Pop Warner really, and we have 22 bags to pack tomorrow at some point," Pagano said. "It's extremely tough."
Harnish made his case during his most extensive — and impressive — action of the preseason.
On a night that Andrew Luck followed the script and left after one series, and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton improvised and departed after six plays after bruising his throwing arm, it was the backups who shined.
Deji Karim and Darren Evans each rushed for touchdowns for Indy (2-2).
Jones, another rookie, made a nifty catch on Harnish's final pass, eluded one tackle and broke another as he ran down the right side of the field and overpowered his way into the end zone.
Linebacker Moise Fokou, whom Indy acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, had 13 tackles, broke up two passes and forced a fumble, and Harnish, dubbed Mr. Irrelevant as the last pick in the draft, wound up 9 of 16 for 162 yards with one TD pass — the winning score.
"I don't know if satisfied is the word I'd use," Harnish said. "I'd say confident. We do feel pretty pumped up about what we did (winning). You can only do so much. I think there's been a lot of good things for myself and the unit."
The biggest scare for Cincinnati came on its sixth offensive play when an offensive line already playing without starting center Kyle Cook broke down. Robert Mathis honed in on Dalton, hitting him on his throwing arm. Dalton stayed down briefly, then got up, walked toward the sideline and dropped to the ground again where trainers appeared to look at his right elbow.
Fortunately for the Bengals (2-2), the injury wasn't as bad as it looked.
"It was a stupid thing where my hand went a little numb, kind of like getting hit in the funny bone," Dalton explained. "I wish it didn't happen, but it did. I'll be ready to go (for the season opener)."
Injuries and decisions kept the backups in the spotlight all night.
At times, Harnish dazzled his home-state fans with strong throws and quick strikes. The three TD drives consumed a total of 5 minutes, 58 seconds.
But between the scores, it was a long, ugly game for the I-74 rivals that traditionally close out the preseason.