Marvin Lewis has rolled out some solid preseason performances in the past. A 31-3 rout over the defending Super Bowl-champion Patriots in 2004. Back-to-back 40-point games in 2006 over the Bills and Packers. A 22-9 verdict over the Eagles in 2010.
But Thursday night's 34-10 win in Atlanta has to take the prize simply because it was the opener against a team that is supposed to have enough depth to get to the Super Bowl after finishing a game away last year.
The Bengals haven't scored that many points in an opener in 18 years, since a 34-21 win over the Bill Tobin-led Colts in Indianapolis.
To be certain there are some things that need work. The offensive line had five of the six penalties on the offense. The first offense had a noise problem that led to one of those. The key-right-now draft picks on defense, safety Shawn Williams and linebacker Sean Porter, are going to need to make a bigger impact as the preseason progresses and the opener fades.
But all in all it was a solid start. Lewis, it appears, is getting his message across. All three phases were crisp. Under Lewis the Bengals came into Thursday averaging 13 points in preseason openers and three of the last four they had scored only a touchdown or less.
It can only mean one thing. The last couple of roster spots have heated up. A look at the state of the state going into Saturday's 3-5 p.m. practice that sets up Sunday's 6-8 p.m. Family Night inside Paul Brown Stadium:
(NFL years in parenthesis)
Josh Johnson (5), John Skelton (4), Andy Dalton (3), Zac Robinson (2).
The coaches were thrilled how the backups played and although Skelton sifted a perfect quarterback rating, nothing has changed since OTAs. The No. 2 job is Johnson's to lose and his prolific performance in Atlanta along with Skelton's solid outing makes one wonder if a team is going to inquire about Skelton. After the Falcons saw Skelton for three days and their backup Dominique Davis offered a 49.9 passer rating Thursday, maybe they'd be first on the list.
Dalton threw it fine. No sense when Robinson (elbow) is getting back.
Brandon Tate (5), A.J. Green (3), Andrew Hawkins (3), Ryan Whalen (3), Dane Sanzenbacher (3), Marvin Jones (2), Mohamed Sanu (2), Taveon Rogers (2), Cobi Hamilton (R), Tyrone Goard (R), Roy Roundtree (R), Jheranie Boyd (R).
Doesn't it sound more and more like Hawkins (ankle) is a candidate for injured reserve-recall? That means he'd miss the first eight games of the season, but what a nice shot of fresh legs that would be as the dog days approach.
If that's the case and the Bengals do as expected and keep six receivers, who do they have behind Green, Sanu and Jones?
With the uncertainty of cornerback Adam Jones's situation with the league office, Tate has to be seen as a lock. For one, he's had a terrific camp at receiver and he's the team's most seasoned punt and kick returner. Off Thursday night's performance, Sanzenbacher and Whalen showed they've got an edge on the sixth-round pick, Hamilton.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (6), Bernard Scott (5), Cedric Peerman (4), Daniel Herron (2), Giovani Bernard (R), Rex Burkhead (R).
Bernard had a typical rookie debut. He did some nice things, such as running hard inside the 5-yard line and returning a punt for 10 yards. And some things backs haven't done around here in a while, such as getting to the edge on third-and-one. But he also let himself get held up on a screen and missed a blitz pickup. All in all though, he showed why he's going to make this offense better.
This is a deep group. The Bengals are probably keeping four and with Scott (knee) a candidate for PUP, which puts him out of the first six weeks of the regular season, the Peerman-Burkhead-Herron trio is the one to watch and all three played well Thursday.
Chris Pressley (5), John Conner (4), Orson Charles (3).
Charles did OK as the H-back as he continues to learn the fullback duties. But the Bengals were apparently impressed with how well and powerful Conner played as the conventional fullback against the Falcons, a team that almost brought him in last year. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has said Charles is going to get some snaps going back to tight end and it will be interesting to see how much in light of Conner's effort. The thinking is the Bengals keep just one here and Pressley (knee) looks like he's headed to PUP.
Alex Smith (9), Richard Quinn (5), Jermaine Gresham (4), Bryce Davis (1), Tyler Eifert (R).
Gresham looked great in his short stint with catches of 10 and 11 yards and he really buried the safety after his first catch. Some thought Eifert blocked better in the game than in practice. Smith (knee) didn't play Thursday and his fate may be tied on which position Charles is counted.
LT Andrew Whitworth (8), G-T Anthony Collins (6), C Kyle Cook (6), T Dennis Roland (6), G Mike Pollak (6), RT Andre Smith (5), G Clint Boling (3), G Kevin Zeitler (2), C Trevor Robinson (2), T Tanner Hawkinson (R), T Reid Fragel (R), C T.J. Johnson (R), T Jason Weaver (R), G John Sullen (R).
Because of Hawkinson's sprained ankle and the five penalties, the line is coming under scrutiny. The Bengals can't have both centers picking up penalties like Cook did on a hands-to-the-face and Robinson on a false start, but the other starters played pretty well. Smith looks like he's ready to have a big year because he keeps looking better and better.
As Lewis indicated after the game, Hawkinson isn't hurt badly enough to be out for the year but he said he's going to miss some time. It looks significant enough that Collins remains the first man off the bench to back up Whitworth and play some guard. And it's a tough loss because the Bengals want to bring back Whitworth (knee) slowly and Hawkinson was going to get a lot of valuable snaps.
Pollak has practiced well and let's see how much he pushes Robinson, a guy that earlier in camp line coach Paul Alexander said has yet to reach last year's form as he battles back from shoulder problems. The Bengals usually keep nine linemen and with the tackle versatility of Collins and Hawkinson, they may be able to keep a couple of more center-guards.
The Bengals aren't happy with how Hawkinson got hurt. Wide receiver Taveon Rogers got thrown into the back of Hawkinson's legs.
E Robert Geathers (10), NT Domata Peko (8), E Wallace Gilberry (6); RE Michael Johnson (5); LE Carlos Dunlap (4); DT Geno Atkins (4); LE Dontay Moch (2); DT Devon Still (2); NT Brandon Thompson (2); RE DeQuin Evans (1); DT Vaughn Meatoga (1); RE Margus Hunt (R), NT Terence Stephens (R).
The Bengals have their nine. Hunt played a ton of snaps while showing his ample potential and inexperience. He'll be playing all preseason. Earlier in the week defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer talked about Still's teasing inconsistency. On Thursday he showed the upside. Thompson (knee) didn't play but is expected to go in two weeks in Dallas. Atkins is a beast. The great Steven Jackson had just eight yards on five carries against these guys Thursday.
James Harrison (10), Rey Maualuga (5), Aaron Maybin (5), Vincent Rey (4), Vontaze Burfict (2), Emmanuel Lamur (2), Brandon Joiner (1), J.K. Schaffer (1), Sean Porter (R), Jordan Campbell (R), Jayson DiManche (R), Bruce Taylor (R).
The first three and Lamur really run around out there. Harrison looks young and spry. Rey (knee) didn't play and may be back this week. When he comes back his battle with Schaffer for what seems to be that sixth and final spot has amped up. Schaffer was all over the place Thursday and led the team in tackles while also getting a big block on Sanzenbacher's 71-yard punt return touchdown. Porter has flashed in practice but he didn't show up much Thursday. With DiManche playing well, that may be one to watch.
CB Terence Newman (11), CB Leon Hall (7), CB Adam Jones (7), S Reggie Nelson (7), CB Brandon Ghee (4), S Taylor Mays (4), S Jeromy Miles (4), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (2), S George Iloka (2), S Tony Dye (1), CB Chris Lewis-Harris (1), CB Shaun Prater (1), S Shawn Williams (R), CB Terrence Brown (R), CB Onterio McCalebb (R), CB Troy Stoudermire (R).
Ghee, who suffered a head injury, and Kirkpatrick showed up. The question is six corners and four safeties or five corners and five safeties? Miles, who had a sack Thursday and is always solid on special teams, would look to have the edge to make it 5-5. Iloka got the start at safety and looked OK but he could have played the Falcons 42-yard screen pass better. Williams had an up-and-down rookie night but he also got in a few hits.
K Mike Nugent (9), P Kevin Huber (5), LS Clark Harris (5), K-P Quinn Sharp (R).
Sharp lived up to his name with a 47-yard field goal and consistent kickoffs deep into the end zone as he starts to build up tape in a bid to get a shot elsewhere.