Kicker Mike Nugent, a key performer in the 30-18 run of the last three seasons, won his job in the 2010 preseason.
Wednesday's release of the NFL preseason schedule serves as a good reminder that wins and losses don't always translate. In the last three preseasons the Bengals have been 6-6 before going on a 30-18 run for three playoff berths in the regular season. But they have provided some memorable moments in the Marvin Lewis Era as well as some important clues on what eventually transpired. Here are the top five in the 44 preseason games under Lewis:
1. Aug. 20, 2009 at New England; Bengals 7, Patriots 6.
You can tell your grandkids you saw it. Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady got beat when Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco kicked an extra point and Mike Zimmer's defense did the rest.
With the Bengals realizing in the first quarter that Shayne Graham couldn't kick with a mild groin pull, the Bengals turned to the soccer-crazy Ocho and he delivered the extra point after J.T. O'Sullivan threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry on fourth-and-17 with 1:56 left in the first half. Then they let him start the second half with a kickoff that went to the New England 9, but that was it for the exhibition.
"I told him after he hit it, just get out of the way," special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons famously said of the kickoff after it was over.
It was inexplicable, improbable, insane and only The Ocho could sum it up.
"'Esteban' Ochocinco is back," he said. "The most interesting footballer in the world. Everyone has to remember, I've always said that soccer is my No. 1 sport. I think Ronaldinho would be proud of me right now."
It was the perfect setup for one of the wildest seasons in Bengals history when they shocked the world and won the AFC North off a 4-11-1 record. They pulled it off with an improbable brew of late comebacks on offense and a No. 4 defense that was ranked 27th two years before, all against the backdrop of the devastating deaths of a coach's wife (Vikki Zimmer) and a player (the injured Henry).
2. Aug 25, 2011 at Paul Brown Stadium: Bengals 24, Panthers 13.
With Bengaldom fretting about the New Era offense that had just one touchdown all preseason, Andy Dalton buried No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton in their battle of rookie quarterbacks and led the Bengals to three first-half touchdowns.
Dalton racked up a 107.5 passer rating compared to Newton's 42 with 11 of 17 passing for 130 yards and threw his first NFL TD pass to, who else? Wide receiver A.J. Green, taken three picks behind Newton, bounced back from three drops against the Jets four days before and hauled in a 40-yard bomb by running cleanly past cornerback Chris Gamble down the right side on what he called a double-go.
"It's like a dream come true. I've been thinking about it all day, honestly," Green said.
It also gave the faithful something nice to think about after two fitful weeks worrying about the offense. He and Dalton would go on to become the first rookie wide receiver-quarterback combo from the same team in the history of the Pro Bowl, Cedric Benson ended his Bengals career rushing for a third straight 1,000-yard season, and first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden would turn down head coaching interviews.
3. Aug. 28, 2006 at PBS: Bengals 48, Packers 17.
With the season opener two weeks away and Carson Palmer testing his reconstructed ACL for the first time in game conditions, he silenced any doubters by firing three TDs on nine of 14 passing for 140 yards in the first half of the highest scoring preseason game in Bengals history. Less than eight months after he was carried off the field following the second snap of the wild card game, Palmer looked like he'd never been away while hooking up with favorite target T.J. Houshmandzadeh for 96 yards and a touchdown on five catches,
Palmer dodged the fates this time. A lightning storm stopped the game for 39 minutes with 9:09 left for the only weather delay the Bengals have ever had at home. But once the regular season got going, he would go to a second straight Pro Bowl and he came within Graham's 39-yard missed field goal in the last eight seconds of the regular season from becoming the first Bengals quarterback to take them to back-to-back playoff berths since Ken Anderson in the early '80s. That would be left to Dalton.
4. Aug 8, 2013 at the Georgia Dome: Bengals 34, Falcons 10.
Finishing off a rare training camp week against another team, the Bengals reeled off their biggest margin of victory ever in a preseason opener with an impressive display of depth that would prove to be a harbinger of how the Bengals secured the 2013 AFC North title despite a rash of key injuries.
Backup quarterback Josh Johnson threw for 100 yards on nine of 16 passing, as well as setting up one touchdown with a 43-yard scramble and throwing for another when he threaded a 21-yarder through a crowd to backup wide receiver Brandon Tate. Backup wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, a Christmas Day stocking stuffer off the waiver wire, returned a 71-yard punt for a touchdown and added a 36-yard touchdown catch from yet another backup quarterback, John Skelton.
Meanwhile, free-agent rookie kicker Quinn Sharp hit a 47-yard field goal, free-agent rookie linebacker Jayson DiManche had a sack, and rookie running back Rex Burkhead piled up 52 yards on nine carries while cornerback Brandon Ghee's interception set up Tate's late first-half touchdown.
Of that cast of characters, only Tate would play on Opening Day.
But the first-string defense showed a glimpse of its No. 3 ranking early on a third-and-two in the red zone when left end Robert Geathers and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins stoned Falcons' new 10,000-yard running back Steven Jackson for a three-yard loss to force a field goal.
5. Sept. 2, 2010 at Indianapolis: Bengals 30, Colts 28.
The preseason finale may not translate into a final record as the Bengals had no idea they were headed to a 4-12 flop. But it always provides some intriguing bubble battles on the roster and this one had some far-reaching results for a team that ended up going to the playoffs the next three seasons out of that '10 rubble. Special teams is a big reason why the New Era came together so quickly and current special teams co-captain Cedric Peerman and kicker Mike Nugent staked their claims this night at freshly scrubbed Lucas Oil Stadium.
Peerman, on his fourth team since the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round in 2009, came into the game vying with James Johnson for the final running back spot. He ripped off a 93-yard touchdown run as well as a 50-yard kick return, won the job, and has gone on to become a special teams staple as well as a valuable role player while becoming one of the team's spiritual leaders.
Nugent, a second-round pick of the Jets in 2005 and Centerville, Ohio product, came back home in the spring to rebuild a career that had been derailed by injury. And although he looked to have a lead on Dave Rayner in a summer-long competition, he was battling some nagging injuries coming into the finale. Rayner hit a 39-yarder, his longest of the preseason that night, but Nugent capped the Bengals' first drive with a 52-yard bomb from the right hash to prove he was healthy and the job was his.
Ironically, his comeback season ended on the same field a few months later when he tore his ACL executing a perfect on-side kick. But Nugent came back again, won the team's Ed Block Courage Award, and has hit four field goals in the last two minutes of regulation or overtime in the playoff seasons. His field goals from 43 and 54 yards were the last plays in back-to-back huge road wins in October.
Sometimes you don't see a preseason glimpse for a few years.