The 49ers played the part of their own worst enemy against the Bengals Sunday afternoon, as a series of turnovers in their own territory handed Cincinnati a 24-14 victory.
While silly errors were the prevailing storyline, San Francisco’s offense did little to help the situation, scoring only 14 points one week after an equally feeble 10 points in Cleveland. All of the 49ers’ scoring came in the second half, already facing a daunting 24-0 deficit.
The San Francisco team that came out in the second half was able to score and play better defense, but the overall performance lacked the precision it takes to beat a playoff-bound team like Cincinnati (11-3).
49ers coach Jim Tomsula had this to say about his team finishing plays against Cincinnati:
“When the play is to be made, whether catching, tackling, blocking; you have to see it through. We have got to make sure we make that play and finish it.”
Neither team was able to break through in the first quarter. Both offenses relied heavily on the run, and, excepting one 37-yard ball from first-time Bengals starter AJ McCarron to AJ Green, where Tramaine Brock got lost in coverage, the only completed passes were dump-offs and screens.
The second quarter started roughly the same until the 49ers (4-10) made their first crucial error of the game. Blaine Gabbert escaped a blitz to find an open Anquan Boldin. Boldin, who entered the game nine catches short of 1,000 career receptions, was stripped of the ball on his way down by Carlos Dunlap for a fumble.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
The 49ers held strong defensively against Jeremy Hill and the Bengals on 1st and goal at the 1-yard line. On second down, San Francisco appeared to deliver another massive stop, but Marvin Lewis threw his red flag, and the play was reversed on the basis that Hill had crossed the plane with his left arm for the game’s first score and a 7-0 lead.
After a quick three and out from the San Francisco offense, Bradley Pinion mishit a punt that went 18 yards and out of bounds. McCarron quickly completed three passes for 33 yards, and Hill proceeded to double his money with his second 1-yard touchdown on the day.
The two Cincinnati scores came from less than two minutes of possession time, a disappointing tribute to the defense and field position that San Francisco was allowing them.
On the following possession, San Francisco’s offense only played two downs as Gabbert’s second-down pass — which was on the mark — was tipped up by tight end Vance McDonald and intercepted by the oncoming Vontaze Burfict. McDonald had two blown receptions that turned into interceptions on the day.
On the first play of Cincinnati’s ensuing possession, McCarron (15-for-21, 1 touchdown) found Tyler Kroft open for a 20-yard touchdown. Mike Nugent converted his third of three first-half extra points to inflate the score to an ugly 21-0.
Cincinnati was scoring like they were in a hurry, and San Francisco had no way of stopping them.
After a long possession and Nugent field goal opened the third quarter, the 49ers changed their fortune and forced Cincinnati into a turnover.
Gabbert (30-for-50, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions) found his rhythm with a 29-yard pass to Boldin and a 16-yard completion to Kendall Gaskins before Bruce Miller finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown through the middle of the Bengals’ defense to get on the board 24-7.
Phil Dawson had a chance to add on with a 41-yard field goal, but saw that chance denied via a Carlos Dunlap blocked kick, his second in three weeks.
The 49ers went on to score one more touchdown in the fourth quarter on a long ball from Gabbert to his favorite target of the day, Boldin. The reception was Boldin’s seventh of the game, which brought him to 998 in his career, two short of joining the exclusive 1,000 reception club.
With just over two minutes to go, the 49ers recovered an onside kick that was incorrectly ruled Cincinnati ball on the field. Tomsula challenged and the officials reversed the call, Tomsula’s first successful challenge of the season.
With the win, the Bengals clinched their fifth consecutive playoff berth. San Francisco, on the other hand, guaranteed themselves a last-place finish in the NFC West, which, while unappealing, draws them ever closer to a higher draft pick.
The 49ers will try to bounce back from losses to Cleveland and Cincinnati visiting a struggling Detroit Lions team on December 27. San Francisco will close out their season the following week at home against the St. Louis Rams.