The Monday Touchdown: 49ers Spoil Bengals Home Opener

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Head Coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals walks dejectedly during the game against the San Francisco 49ers on September 25, 2011 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The 49ers defeated the Bengals 13-8. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

The Bengals took the field in Paul Brown Stadium for the first time on Sunday with high hopes that they would turn a 1-1 record into a 2-1 record by the end of the day. Unfortunately, those hopes were shattered on the way to a Niners victory over the Bengals by a score of 13-8 in what was probably the ugliest game in the history of competition of any kind. Seriously, I've seen better extreme ironing matches. And yes, extreme ironing is a real thing.

Before we get into my love of obscure sports, here are the seven biggest things I noticed from Sunday's loss to the 49ers.

Point 1: Dalton Finally Looked Like a Rookie

You can't really blame this game on one person, but if you're the kind of person that likes to blame things on one poor guy, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton certainly can't be the guy you blame. He looked so impressive in his first two games. He had a quarterback rating that ranked in the top of the league with the elite quarterbacks. For all the national attention that Cam Newton got, I think Dalton did a better job. I'd rather have a quarterback play mistake free than a quarterback who throws for 400 yards and two interceptions. 

Dalton was bound to look like a rookie eventually and that was yesterday. Now that we got it out of the way, he can continue to improve. Even though he threw for two interceptions at fairly crucial times, I'm not unhappy with Dalton at all.

Point 2: Benson Didn't Get the Ball Quite Enough

Facing the 49ers top-ranked run defense, many were worried about the Bengals' ability to run the ball, which they need to do for Dalton's sake. Benson ran for 64 yards against a defense that has only allowed an average of 54.5 total rushing yards per game in the first two weeks. Benson only carried the ball 17 times.

The Bengals were never down by more than a touchdown and while I understand their need to pass at the very end of the game because time didn't permit them to run the ball, I feel that they may have given up on running the ball when it was helping move the ball down the field. Benson didn't look terrible against the Niners. In fact, he had a few really nice carries. He probably could have gotten to 100 yards had he carried the ball a few more times. That could have opened the passing game a little more as well as given the Bengals third-and-short plays that could have been more manageable. 

Point 3: Run Defense Played Well

The biggest concern for the Bengals defense coming into week three was Frank Gore. Gore is without a doubt the Niners' biggest offensive weapon. ESPN (In$ider) describes Gore as a "compact, explosive runner with excellent running skills and good vision." They give him a grade of 82. The only guys the Bengals will face are Maurice Jones-Drew (88) in week five, Chris Johnson (92) in week nine and Ray Rice (85) in weeks 11 and 17. 

So, the Bengals defense showed up and shut down the fourth best running back they'll see all season. It's almost ironic that they allowed a rushing touchdown to Kendall Hunter, who had nine carries for 26 yards and the only touchdown scored in the game. If you take away that one 11-yard touchdown run, Hunter only would have averaged 1.8 yards per carry.

Point 5: Bengals Pass Defense was Out to Lunch

Let's get one thing clear right now: Alex Smith is not very good. The 49ers are starting him because they're not confident that Colin Kaepernick, their rookie quarterback, is ready to play. Smith, the first-overall pick in 2005, has never really done anything to impress me and if the 49ers want to win on a consistant basis, they're going to need a new quarterback to do it.

Smith had not yet broken 200 yards passing until he faced the Bengals on the road and he did it without Braylon Edwards and he did it even though he was sacked five times. He finished the game having completed 20 of 30 passes for 201 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. That gave him an 85.6 passer rating on the day.

You can't really blame cornerbacks Leon Hall or Nate Clements because wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan only combined for five receptions for 41 yards. Who you can blame is whoever was responsible for covering Vernon Davis

Which brings me to my next point.....

Point Six: The Bengals Need to Figure Out a Way to Cover Good Tight Ends

You would think that a team with a tight end as talented as Jermaine Gresham would know how to cover a tight end. However, that's just not the case. Vernon Davis accounted for more than half of Smith's passing yards, racking up 114 yards on eight catches on Sunday. 

This isn't the first time this season that tight ends have done some damage to the Bengals defense. The Bengals managed to shut down the Broncos tight ends, allowing Willis McGahee to run all over them in the process, but they gave up two touchdowns and 80 yards on six receptions to the Browns' tight ends, Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore.

That has got to change if the Bengals defense wants to be taken seriously.

Extra Point: Get Used to Watching Games Online

Coming into the season I figured that the Bengals would sell out two games -- their home opener and their home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Obviously they didn't sell out their home opener. In fact they were over 22,000 empty seats at PBS on Sunday. 

How can you possibly blame Bengals fans for not buying tickets? The economy, high ticket prices and a team that isn't going to win many games don't necessarily combine to equal sell-out games. I wouldn't be surprised to see every single home Bengals game blacked out in 2011. For those of you who aren't in the Cincinnati area, that's no big deal. But for those of use who live within 75 miles of the stadium it is. 

Hopefully the Bengals will go on a small tear, winning 5 or six games in a row. Maybe then they'll sell out. I'm not holding my breath, though. I could spend the next two million words explaining my thoughts on the NFL's blackout policy and how terrible it is, but I'm not going to do that. Instead I'll just say get used to listening to the game on the radio and watching the games online.

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