The Cincinnati Bengals wasted a stalwart defensive effort Sunday before an opening day crowd of 43,363 at Paul Brown Stadium, the second lowest in team history. Andy Dalton showed his youth, throwing two interceptions as the Bengals dropped a 13-8 decision to the San Francisco 49ers.
For the first time this year, the Bengals took the ball on the opening kickoff. Andy Dalton was passing out of the gate and Andre Caldwell was immediately a favorite target. Dalton exploited the seams of the Niners defense, completing five passes and getting the team down to the Niners' two yard line. He couldn't, however connect with Jerome Simpson on third and goal and the Bengals settled for a Mike Nugent field goal.
The Bengals defense responded with an outstanding series. After a swing pass to the fullback gained ten yards, Jonathan Fanene and Chris Crocker sacked Alex Smith. Two more incomplete passes later and the Bengals were back with the football.
Following a Bengal punt, the Niners advanced the ball out near midfield, thanks in part to a blown coverage by Chris Crocker that allowed TE Vernon Davis to pick up 22 yards. The Bengal front seven got pressure on Smith again however, and forced an incompletion on third and ten. Punter Andy Lee shanked the punt for 14 yards and the Bengals took over on their own 43. The Bengals couldn't pick up a first down, however, and Kevin Huber punted the Niners back into poor field position as Ted Ginn, Jr. called for a fair catch at the 11.
Once again, however, the third down bug bit the Bengals, as they misfired on their first five first half tries and squandered some outstanding field position in the process.
The teams traded punts throughout the first half. The Cincinnati defensive line played extremely well, keeping Frank Gore bottled up and constant pressure on Alex Smith. San Francisco never crossed midfield during the first half.
Still, despite great first half field position, the Bengals offense couldn't get untracked after an impressive opening drive. After stuffing Gore on third down with just under two minutes remaining, Marvin Lewis eschewed the timeout and ran Bernard Scott twice instead of attempting any two minute offense. Cincinnati went into the locker room with a 3-0 lead, but the PBS faithful was not happy, cascading them with boos as they left the field.
San Francisco held the ball for five minutes on the opening possession of the second half but still couldn't advance past midfield when Michael Crabtree dropped a pass on third down. The Niners did flip the field however when Brandon Tate called for a fair catch at the five yard line. After one first down, the Bengals were forced to punt and the Niners finally had field position beyond their own 20.
San Francisco quickly took advantage when Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis on a tight end streak all the way down to the Bengals six yard line. Frostee Rucker sacked Smith on first down. Smith apparently had a touchdown to Michael Crabtree, but he was ruled to have stepped out of the end zone prior to making the catch. That moved the Niners back to the 16. Rey Maualuga bailed them out, however with a personal foul, setting up a first and goal back at the five. The Bengals defense was up to the task, forcing a David Akers 23 yard field goal that tied the game 3-3.
The Bengals took over at their own 25 and actually converted a third down on their next drive. Cedric Benson had run the ball into San Francisco territory, but Nate Livings was called for holding. The Bengals had to punt again.
That's when the Bengals defense made the play it needed. Rey Maualuga stripped Frank Gore and the Bengals took over at the San Francisco 16. Cedric Benson carried it down to the six on first down, but the Bengals offense once again bogged down. Mike Nugent converted from 23 yards out and the Bengals led 6-3.
Cincinnati would regret not being able to convert as the 49ers responded with a 10 play, 72 yard drive capped off by a seven yard run by Kendall Hunter, putting the Niners in the lead 10-6. Vernon Davis was the key on the drive, catching three balls for 36 yards.
To add insult to injury, on the Bengals' first play on the next drive, Andy Dalton threw his first interception of the season to Carlos Rogers. The defense held, but David Akers boomed a 53 yard field goal to extend the Niners' lead to 13-6 with 2:16 remaining.
Dalton drove the team into San Francisco territory, but threw behind Jermaine Gresham for his second interception of the day. The Bengals would pick up two more points on a safety as San Francisco ran out the clock.
This will be a tough one to watch in the film room tomorrow. The Bengals defense played an outstanding game, holding the 49ers to just 226 yards of offense and sacked Alex Smith five times giving the offense great field position all day long. With the offense only completing one of ten on third down, however, they couldn't sustain any drives. It was a game there for the taking. For a young team looking for momentum, it was definitely a step backward.
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