INDIANAPOLIS –The Colts followed the typical NFL blueprint in week three of preseason action by playing starters one possession into the second half of action.
Week four found the Colts keeping tradition in place as many of the front-line players worked only one or two possessions.
All three Colts quarterbacks saw action, which offered no surprise. Rookie Andrew Luck directed the first possession. After a Cincinnati penalty gave Indianapolis a quick first down, Luck's night was over when the next three plays netted six yards.
Eight of those came on Luck's only completion of the night, a short toss to former Stanford teammate Coby Fleener. With that, Luck completed his preseason action with 41 completions in 66 attempts for 522 yards and three touchdowns.
Sixth-year veteran Drew Stanton directed the next Colts drive. Stanton hit three passes on the possession, totaling 43 yards. The big play for him was a 23-yard connection with rookie tight end Dwayne Allen.
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano said during the week of the game that no decision has been made whether the team would carry two or three quarterbacks into the season. Rookie Chandler Harnish was left with ample playing time to help sway the decision.
Harnish led the Colts on 12 possessions from late in the first quarter through the end of the contest, hitting nine-of-16 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown. The rookie draft pick from Bluffton, Indiana and Northern Illinois University led the Colts to 14 points in the latter stages of the first half, then teamed with tight end Dominique Jones on a 42-yarder scoring play in the fourth quarter to help decide the contest.
Pagano afterwards thought Harnish gave a pretty good account of himself in the outing.
"I thought he did a nice job. He started slow, but he came back and engineered some touchdown drives in the second quarter and another one there late," said Pagano. "I think Chandler's right where he should be. There were some plays near the end that got a little bit sloppy, but I feel good about Chandler."
Harnish finished preseason hitting 27-of-47 passes for 406 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. A life-long Colts fan, he liked the chance for early action on Thursday.
"It was definitely a blast. I was under the impression I was going to play the second half," said Harnish. "Lo and behold, I was in there in the first quarter. I think it's a great opportunity for me to be tested. It was another great opportunity for me to leave my resume out on the field."
After grinding initially on three drives, Harnish led the Colts to two quick scores to take the halftime lead. He felt he hit a stride.
"I definitely got in a rhythm there in the mid second quarter," said Harnish. "That's one thing I can work on, come in a game and play fast right away. I came in with a little bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look, and I can't afford to do that. I think that's a growing pain, and I'll learn from it."
After the Bengals went on an extended march to take a 16-14 lead, the Colts defense forced a turnover. Harnish was quick to help Indianapolis capitalize.
After taking a sack, he hit wide receiver Kashif Moore for 15 yards on third-and-14. Harnish followed with a 12-yard strike to wide receiver Jeremy Ross. Four plays later on second-and-16, he teamed with rookie tight end Dominique Jones on a 42-yard scoring play that provided the Colts with the eventual winning points.
It was a touchdown pass from a rookie to a rookie, both players vying to keep NFL dreams alive, hopefully in Indianapolis.
"I'm trying to win a football game, plain and simple. Stats, they can take a backseat," said Harnish. "I'm just trying to win a football game. You go back to the film room and you definitely want to put good film out there. Yeah, I'm trying to win a game, but I'm also trying to build a good resume."
Indianapolis will have Luck under center 10 days from now in Chicago. Stanton is the most seasoned signal-caller on the roster, but his experience spans only 13 career outings. Harnish started 46-of-47 games in college, throwing for nearly 9,000 yards and leading his school to four bowl games.
He feels he can be the same type of asset to the Colts.
"I think I can make plays, and I think I'm a winner, and I'm a leader," said Harnish. "I have a great one here (Andrew Luck). I feel I can make this team better in a whole lot of ways."
Indianapolis will cut from 75 to 53 players on Friday. Whether the team keeps two or three quarterbacks is unknown. Harnish hopes to make his favorite team and reside in his home state.
"Being close to home, (the Colts are) my favorite team," said Harnish. "I've never had to change loyalties in the NFL, so that's been awesome. It is a dream come true, so far. We'll see what happens tomorrow.
"(I have) no indication (of the decision). They haven't said a word. That's been a good thing for me. It keeps me urgent. I never get complacent with where I'm at. I'm always working. We'll see."