Andy Dalton heard the criticism this offseason.
Rumors swirled from national media that some inside the Bengals organization weren't sold on his arm strength.
Dalton, along with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, scoffed at the claims. Dalton may not be able to sling it like his strong-armed predecessor Carson Palmer, but in Thursday's 24-19 win against Atlanta he may have quieted the doubters.
He tossed a 55-yard bullet down the sideline for his only touchdown pass of the night. The ball hit WR A.J. Green in perfect stride, allowing the wide receiver to leave Falcons CB Asante Samuel in his dust on a double move.
“My arm feels great," Dalton said. "You can tell everybody that it's not even close to what I've got if I need it.”
The second-year QB didn't stop there. He threw multiple passes off his back foot that sliced through the air on a line. By the looks of his pass selection, Dalton must have been told by Gruden to let loose. He threw the ball all over the lot and finished 8 of 14 for 125 yards and a touchdown. Three of his passes went for gains of at least 22 yards.
The primary point of emphasis this offseason for Dalton was becoming more accurate on his deep ball. Gruden found 15 deep passes last season that left points on the board due to inaccuracy, and he ran through the video repeatedly with his QB.
Dalton was far from perfect on his deep ball Thursday night. He actually overthrew Green behind the defense earlier in the touchdown drive, but the connection for the TD showed the latest step in his development.
Marvin does it again: Fifth-round pick Marvin Jones came to the Bengals from Cal with the reputation as a deep threat. He's lived up to that through two preseason games. Jones flagged down a 42-yard reception over the top of the defense on Thursday night. This came on the heels of his professional debut last week against the Jets when he caught a 45-yarder in the same mold.
In training-camp practices, he's consistently battled top corner Leon Hall and won his fair share deep. Jones averaged 14.6 yards per reception in college. Only Green averaged more yards per catch on the Bengals last season. Jones also added a 16-yard run on an end around Thursday, and the impression he's made likely solidified his spot on the 53-man roster.
Sanu makes his mark: Mohamed Sanu hadn't made many plays so far in camp. In fact, he went without a catch in the preseason opener against the Jets. Gruden quickly pointed it out in video sessions. Sanu has been precise in his routes. But for whatever reason, the ball rarely came his way. That wasn't the case Thursday when he reeled in his first touchdown of preseason.
The third-round pick out of Rutgers, who has learned all three primary receiver spots this camp, caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski. Sanu ran a crisp route and collected the back shoulder grab for the score.
"I just had a fade, and I know Bruce saw the coverage and gave me a little head nod," Sanu said. "I ran my route and he threw a great ball and I made a play on it."
His improvement gives the Bengals depth at receiver as well as versatility since he can play any spot.
Special teams into focus: Lewis talks constantly about how important special-teams role players will be to the formation of his 53-man roster. Those who show they can make plays on special teams will trump players of equal or even greater talent that lack special-teams value.
WR Andrew Hawkins made a great tackle, sneaking past a fullback to bring down a kickoff return inside the 15-yard line. Meanwhile, backup S Jeromy Miles came down with an interception in the second half. Hawkins has solidified his spot on the team as the starting slot receiver. Miles, who stands as the backup to Taylor Mays at safety, has played well on special teams. If he can make plays on the ball as he did Thursday, he will be provide significant value on the back end of the roster.
Health status: The Bengals didn't suffer a bunch of injuries.
TE Jermaine Gresham tweaked his knee on an early reception but appeared to be fine and was walking around the sideline without any problem after the injury. He did not return. There were no other injuries to starters. Vontaze Burfict left dazed after taking a hit in the head from teammate Taylor Mays in the first half.
"Think we came out of it pretty well," Lewis said. "Jermaine will get evaluated tomorrow, they seem to think he'll be fine. Burfict is OK."
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLCIN.