Football

Bengals can't convert on third downs in loss to 49ers

San Francisco running back Kendall Hunter ran through a big hole between Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson (93) and linebacker Thomas Howard (53) for the game's only touchdown from 7 yards out. The 49ers had 226 yards of total offense, two less than the Bengals.
San Francisco running back Kendall Hunter ran through a big hole between Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson (93) and linebacker Thomas Howard (53) for the game's only touchdown from 7 yards out. The 49ers had 226 yards of total offense, two less than the Bengals. AP

CINCINNATI — To discern how the San Francisco 49ers spoiled the Cincinnati Bengals' home opener Sunday, 13-8, one can ponder some numbers.

For instance, 1-for-10 and 0-for-2.

Cincinnati faced third-down situations 10 times, converting only once.

The Bengals entered the red zone twice, first-and-goal both times, but came away with only a pair of chip-shot field goals by Mike Nugent.

"Two weeks in a row where we're not converting enough third downs, making a huge difference in the game," said Coach Marvin Lewis, whose Bengals went 1-for-11 on third down last week in a 24-22 loss at Denver. "We were able to control some field position in the first half but, in the third and fourth quarters, we are not converting the third downs or converting in the red zone, and we are not coming away with touchdowns. Right now, that is our biggest deficiency."

The 49ers (2-1) did just enough on offense, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter to get the win.

"It's frustrating when you can't come out with a 'W' when you play pretty well on defense," said Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko, who finished with eight tackles, including one for a loss, and forced a fumble. "But we still made our mistakes, especially that last play they had when the tight end rolled out."

The play Peko referred to came on the game's only touchdown drive.

Cincinnati (1-2) had taken a 6-3 lead on Nugent's 23-yard field goal with 9:04 left.

The 49ers answered with a 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive.

On first down at the Cincinnati 27, quarterback Alex Smith and teammates rolled right. Except for tight end Vernon Davis, who went left.

Smith pivoted and threw back to a wide-open Davis for a 20-yard gain to the 7.

"Yeah, I had the call on, and I saw they were bringing pressure," Smith said, "so I really tried to sell the fake."

On the next play, Kendall Hunter found a gaping hole off left tackle for the touchdown, with 3:59 left.

On Cincinnati's next play from scrimmage, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton threw the first interception of his career.

Andre Caldwell ran a short "out" pattern, but 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers stepped in.

"He beat me to the route, and he made the pick," Caldwell said. "He was there before I got there and made the play."

Cincinnati's longest completion in the game went for only 22 yards.

"We definitely need to push the ball down the field a little bit more," said Caldwell, who finished with six catches for 53 yards. "They started sitting on us a little bit, so it's harder to get open. You've got to put that fear in their heart by stretching the field a little bit."

Rogers' play led to a 53-yard field goal by David Akers, who played at Tates Creek and the University of Louisville.

Akers also had a 23-yarder in the third quarter, the 300th field goal of his career.

That kick came soon after Smith found Michael Crabtree in the back of the end zone from 10 yards out. But Crabtree had gone out of the end zone before coming back in bounds, so that play was called back.

After Akers pushed San Francisco's lead to 13-6, Dalton threw three consecutive completions — including the 22-yarder, to Jermaine Gresham — to reach the San Francisco 36 with 1:54 left.

Dalton tried to go to Gresham again, but Reggie Smith made a diving interception at the 25.

The 49ers held the ball until taking a safety intentionally with two seconds left.

"The first one was a bad decision on my part," Dalton said of the interceptions. "(Rogers) undercut the route, and I should have never thrown it. The second one was a little miscommunication. So we've got to get that fixed."

In contrast, the Bengals worked like a well-oiled machine on the first drive of the game — until bogging down inside the 10.

Dalton connected on his first five passes, good for 61 yards. The last of those covered 11 yards to Donald Lee, for a first down on the 6-yard line.

Cedric Benson ran for 4 yards, then lost 2. On third down, Dalton's pass to Jerome Simpson was almost intercepted in the end zone.

All five San Francisco possessions in the first half started inside its 20-yard line. The 49ers didn't cross midfield until the third quarter.

The Bengals had 228 yards of total offense, two more than San Francisco. The 49ers were held to 50 rushing yards, and Smith was sacked five times.

Benson ran 17 times for 64 of Cincinnati's 79 rushing yards.

Dalton finished 17-for-32 for 157 yards.

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