Colts finish lackluster preseason 0-4

Annual preseason finale against Cincinnati turns into a dud for Colts, whose backups are far from competitive in 35-7 loss.

Cincinnati — When the Indianapolis Colts finally scored in an otherwise ugly preseason finale Thursday night, Da’Rick Rogers lost his head and unleashed his right foot.

The Colts wide receiver celebrated his 7-yard TD catch in a 35-7 loss to Cincinnati by punting the football. That’s a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.

So in other words, when the Colts did something right, they still did something wrong. Summed up the game and, for the most part, an 0-4 NFL preseason.

“I wasn’t thinking,” Rogers said. “That’s on me. That’s just my misunderstanding of the rules of the game and that’s all on me. It was just a mistake.”

“It’s unacceptable,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said of the Rogers penalty. “It does not represent anything we’re about. I apologize to our fans. That’s on me.”

In fairness, everybody had a hand in this outcome.

Granted, it’s the annual end-of-the-bench exhibition, where each team sits the starters and plays everybody else. The Colts started rookie Jack Mewhort, the regular offensive left guard, at center for a quarter. And defensive end Tyler Hoover was thrust into the game on offense at left tackle.

And there was an injury to go with the insult as Colts backup left tackle Joe Reitz exited with a high ankle sprain. While Reitz assured afterward, “I’m OK,” that injury is known to linger and could impact roster decisions when the team makes cuts to get down to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday.

Third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish got his first NFL start in three seasons. “It was a gift,” backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said of his buddy getting to play the entire game.

It was a painful gift, though. Harnish was hounded throughout as he took five sacks and even more punishment when he had to scramble for what yards he could gain. He finished 13-of-24 for 102 yards with 1 TD and 1 interception.

“I would be going down a slippery slope if I were to start pointing blame or anything,” Harnish said after the Bengals outgained the Colts 319-186 in total yards. “We just didn’t execute as an offense. Communication wasn’t up to par. We didn’t make plays when we had to and we made a big mistake with my interception.”

Bengals safety Danieal Manning returned that interception 33 yards for a touchdown to give the hosts a 21-0 lead in the third quarter. Just three players earlier, Bengals punt returner Dane Sanzenbacher had made it a two-score game with a 77-yard TD punt return.

The rout was on. And the only positive for the visitors was when Harnish and Rogers hooked up for the late score. Then Rogers punted, which symbolized how one-sided and uneventful this exhibition became for the Colts.

“We like to compete and win every time we take the field,” Pagano said. “Obviously I know what the record is. I know teams have won every game in the preseason and not fared well (in the regular season). I know teams in the past have lost every game in the preseason and fared well.

“We’ve got a good football team, we’re going to have a good football team, and we’re going to win a lot of games. We’ve got a lot of things to clean up, period.”

The Colts have had seven winless preseasons. The last time was 0-4 in 2010, when they finished the regular season 10-6 and lost in the AFC wild-card round of the playoffs. They were 0-5 in 2005, finished 14-2 with the AFC’s No. 1 seed but were upset by Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoff round.

“Credit Cincinnati, they came to play. We didn’t,” Pagano said.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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