Cedric Peerman and his teammates celebrate Peerman's recovery of a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown.
Even if their head coach couldn't quite say it, the stat sheet and the scoreboard did.
The Bengals 17-6 victory over the Jets on Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium was as sharp and fast and as physical and as total as any preseason opener they've played in Marvin Lewis's 10 seasons.
Exhibit A: The 17 points are what the Bengals scored in the three previous preseason openers combined.
Everyone from Pro Bowl quarterback Andy Dalton (a 15-play drive), to free-agent rookie middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict (an interception) to special-teamers Dan Skuta (blocked punt) and Cedric Peerman (two touchdowns) to long lost third-rounder Dontay Moch (1.5 sacks) contributed to an effort the Jets were briefly in the red zone once, the Bengals had five sacks, the Jets could muster just 173 yards, and the Bengals had no turnovers.
"I thought we tackled, which was key, because coming into the first preseason game, just making sure we do a good job of tackling is big, because in training camp we haven't had many opportunities to do that," Lewis said. "So that was a positive. Overall, my impression, I thought some of the young guys got an opportunity to play more than we expected, and that will be a good chance to evaluate them. I thought in special teams, we handled the substitutions well, so we played with poise. Starting out, that was going to be big, and we can build upon that."
There were things to work on, of course.
The offense took off on a brisk 15-play, 76-yard march the second time it had the ball, but the problems in the red zone and on the goal line that have hampered the Bengals for the last several years surfaced when they stalled at the Jets 4 and had to settle for Mike Nugent's 22-yard field goal.
The Bengals had a big penalty on special teams when they lined up illegally over center while receiving a punt and gave the Jets a first down on the defense's second series.
And they averaged just 2.8 yards per rush on 31 rushes.
"We have to be able to run the football more effectively throughout the ballgame, and that will be key as we go forward," Lewis said. "We've got to look at that and make sure we're being able to run the football effectively. We did a pretty good job on third down tonight throughout the game, and that was probably the key to the game there."
But it was a pretty complete night.
A deep, fast defense did what it was supposed to do. The first team played in the first quarter and dented an estimable offensive line with three Pro Bowlers. The Bengals allowed just 15 yards rushing on six attempts, succeeded on three of four third-downs, and got sacks from blitzing middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and outside linebacker Manny Lawson working as a pass rusher.
"That was the game plan: come out fast and stop the run," said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins. "We just wanted to start fast."
The defense even seemed to dodge two huge injuries when Maualuga and left end Carlos Dunlap limped off the field with what Lewis called right knee sprains. Maualuga says he'll be out a couple of days and since Lewis said one of them was more severe, Dunlap looks like he'll be out a couple of weeks.
"I think we did a good job and set the tone, and we did what we had to do," Maualuga said. "We executed each play that was called, then the next guys came in and made a lot of plays. It just shows that when one person gets nicked up, the next person steps up. Everyone did a great job — defensive line, linebackers, safeties. Special teams made a great play. The offense made some good plays. Our defense held their high-tempo offense to, what, 15 yards rushing in the first half?"
The first-team offense matched the defense with that 15-play drive that consumed 7:12. Just compare it to last year's opener, when the first team stayed in the game until the first half's two-minute warning and got no points and just 104 yards.
"It's completely different. I didn't have a situation where I only practiced for two weeks and everything was new," Dalton said. "Everything felt comfortable and felt good."
He should have been able to cap it off with a four-yard touchdown pass, but A.J. Green dropped a slant in front of Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. Yet the offense moved the ball crisply against last year's No. 5 defense in the NFL. Tight end Jermaine Gresham had a 19-yard catch-and-run in the flat up the sideline, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis converted a third-and-10 when he was matched up on linebacker Bart Scott and took a pass for 18 yards, and slot receiver Andrew Hawkins caught a seven-yard pass over the middle on third-and-six.
"Overall, I think you could say we did a good job," Dalton said. "We felt like we got into a little bit of a groove on that second drive, but you've got to make the plays to finish it. Overall, for the whole game, I think you could see the talent we have."
And the depth.
When left guard Travelle Wharton went down on the first third-down snap (Dalton's incomplete pass that went through Gresham's hands), it looked devastating when he was carted off the field. At halftime Wharton grimly leaned on crutches outside the MRI room at PBS and indications were he had suffered a season-ending injury.
But when second-year man Clint Boling checked into the game, the Bengals were able to drive it. It reflects what the coaches had been saying all camp. Boling, a fourth-round pick out of Georgia, came back this season stronger and more flexible and while Wharton got off to a slow start in making the adjustment from Carolina, Boling is having one of the line's best camps.
If the fears of Wharton are realized, the Bengals may be in the market for a backup center that can also play guard since Boling seemed to have won the backup center job. Boling showed his athleticism when the Bengals scored with the second group on running back Cedric Peerman's one-yard run when he combined with backup fullback James Develin to get push on the goal line.
The backups also excelled on special teams, which looked to be in midseason form. They did have some penalties and backup kicker Thomas Weber dribbled a kickoff out of bounds and missed a 37-yarder right while Hawkins fumbled and then recovered his first punt return.
But linebacker Dan Skuta blocked a punt, Peerman fell on it in the end zone, and Kevin Huber dropped punts on the Jets 4 and 6.
"Skuta plays hard all the time and he deserved that blocked punt tonight. He lined up where he always does and just did his thing," Peerman said. "I was just trying not to kick it out of bounds and make sure I fell on it."
If there are two prime examples of just how deep this team is, it is Peerman and Skuta, Cincinnati's top special teams tacklers over the past three years. On Friday, Peerman also added his touchdown from scrimmage, where Skuta logged a sack. The coaches have felt like Skuta has pushed Lawson at SAM backer and that Peerman excels in the passing game if the Bengals need him in a pinch.
Lewis said volumes when he tapped Peerman as the special teams captain for the season's first coin flip.
"I'm just humbled to be on this team with the core group of guys that we have — they're incredible. I wouldn't rather be any place else than here in Cincinnati," Peerman said. "I'm just thankful to God to be a part of this team and have teammates that care about you and respect you the way that these guys do."
Peerman arrived off the waiver wire in 2010. Skuta came in 2009 as a college free agent. So did Burfict this season. Hawkins played two seasons in Canada in the CFL. Green-Ellis is a veteran free agent fresh off an AFC title game touchdown for the Patriots.
"The guys upstairs have done a great job of bringing guys in that are team guys," Peerman said of the player personnel department. "Guys that don't care if they make the game-winning touchdown or make the great sack, they just want to get the win. That's what a great team is full of — guys that just want to win."
Skuta, emerging from his fourth preseason opener, said he felt the team hit the ground running quickly and physically. He thought all five guys beat their people up front on the rush he blocked the punt.
"It was really a great atmosphere. Ever since camp started, we've got a lot of guys that can play," Skuta said. "Everyone is playing extremely hard. We've got young guys like Vontaze and Emmanuel (Lamur) running around making plays. The usual guys making plays. Vinnie (Rey). Manny. Rey (Maualuga). Everybody is making plays. Everybody knows what to do. Everybody is out there ready to make plays, not just taking up space."