INDIANAPOLIS -- Cedric Peerman made the kind of play a fourth-string running back needs to get his coach's attention in the final preseason game.
Peerman burst up the middle, then got loose down the right sideline on a second-and-10 just as the relatively quiet Indianapolis crowd started getting into the game. The score gave the Bengals a 13-6 lead.
Peerman finished with 100 yards rushing and had a 50-yard kickoff return. His touchdown run made the kind of mark he was hoping to leave.
"That shows the speed we know he's got," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "That was the thing Cedric had coming out of Virginia a year ago. It kind of got him elevated in the draft. We know he can do it. He's been an impressive guy for us."
Lewis said his mission was accomplished.
"To sum it up, we had an opportunity to look at the guys that we wanted to look at," he said. "It was a close game throughout, and everytime the Colts were able to score, we went back and answered, which was a good thing. I think the only negative that I'd like to clean up was on special teams."
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning didn't play, and most of Indy's starters took the night off. Curtis Painter got the start and completed nine of 20 passes for 114 yards. Backup Tom Brandstater completed 10 of 18 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns, all to rookie Brandon James.
It's the sixth winless preseason in Colts history. They last failed to win a preseason game in 2005, then finished with the league's best record in the regular season.
It was a marked change in fortunes for Indy's offense. The Colts had scored on only three of 26 possessions led by backup quarterbacks heading into Thursday's game. Colts coach Jim Caldwell has been committed to Painter as Manning's backup, but Brandstater has outperformed him statistically.
"The big thing is being able to put it in the end zone, and I thought Brandstater did a good job of that," Caldwell said.
Blair White had seven catches for 132 yards for the Colts. The rookie from Michigan State doesn't know if he can break into Indy's crowded receiving corps.
"You prepare for the worst in this business because you never know what's going to happen," he said. "I've been trying to put myself through that and my mind through that, and whatever happens, happens."
James finished with four catches for 56 yards and had two kickoff returns for 35 yards.
Mike Nugent opened the scoring with a 52-yard field goal, capping a nine-play drive for the Bengals. A key play was a 12-yard completion from Palmer to Chad Ochocinco on a third-and-4 from the Cincinnati 49.
The Colts put together their first threat of the game in the second quarter. A quick pass from Painter to White on a third-and-1 turned into a 52-yard catch-and-run. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 23-yard field goal to put the Colts on the board with 4:32 left in the first half.
Vinatieri's 36-yard field goal tied it at 6 with 53 seconds left in the first half.
On the possession after Peerman's big run, Jordan Palmer threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jerome Simpson to give the Bengals a 20-6 lead.
Brandstater tossed a perfect pass over a defender to James for a 26-yard touchdown that cut Cincinnati's lead to 20-13. The two connected again on a 23-yard TD pass, and then on a 2-point conversion pass to cut Cincinnati's lead to 23-21 with 6:28 to play.
Cincinnati scored on its next offensive play as Palmer fired a 50-yard touchdown pass to Dezmon Briscoe to push the lead back to 30-21.
Brandstater rallied the Colts again, finding James in the end zone for the third time, this time from 4 yards out, to cut Cincinnati's lead to 30-28 with 1:39 to play.
Indy lost its sixth straight preseason game dating to last season, but Caldwell still was positive afterward.
"I'm excited about where we are," he said. "We certainly have been improving all along, getting a little bit better. Overall, I think we made good progress."
The Colts entered looking to find a favorite for the kickoff return job, but no one stood out. Ray Fisher had three for 75 yards, Devin Moore had two for 45 and Brandon James had two for 35. ... The Bengals haven't named a starting kicker since letting Shayne Graham go in the offseason. Nugent made field goals from 52 and 34 yards, and an extra point, while Rayner made a 39-yard field goal and two extra points. ... The Colts allowed 40 points per game in the preseason.