Alex Smith

49ers win ugly against the Bengals; Hunter outshines Gore

The last time the 49ers started 2-1 was in 2009, and the way that season began was eerily similar to how Jim Harbaugh’s first season has gone so far, at least in terms of results. The Niners opened the ’09 campaign with a 20-16 win in Arizona, then beat the Seahawks by 13 at home. Two moderately impressive wins against mediocre teams, then a trip to Minnesota to face the Vikings and Brett Favre.

If you don’t remember how that game turned out, with the Vikings down by 4 points Favre connected on a 32-yard pass to Greg Lewis at the end of regulation. It was more painful than the 49ers’ loss last Sunday to the Cowboys, but kind of similar in that the 49ers walked off the field knowing they blew a great opportunity against a team very few had expected them to beat.

Just like in 2009, the 49ers should both be happy with their two wins against bad teams and a little disappointed that they aren’t 3-0.

However, the 49ers are not a good football team. Whenever you hear an official say, “False start. Offense. The entire offensive line,” you know you aren’t exactly ready for primetime (and Fox hammered the point home with their terrible announcers and even worse camerawork and production). Chilo Rachal and Anthony Davis looked utterly confused today. The 49ers barely mounted a pass rush. The Bengals are a team in disarray with a rookie quarterback, and the Niners looked absolutely rotten for three quarters. But hey, a win’s a win!

Niners Notes

— Kendall Hunter looks like he should be the starter. It wasn’t just that he scored the game-winning touchdown, but he’s got the burst we haven’t seen from Gore since his hip injury (maybe before). The NFL’s a mean business, and the way running backs are treated as disposable commodities is especially cruel. But Hunter’s the more dynamic rusher now, and if Gore’s going to fumble deep in Niners territory then he really is of no use.

— Hunter only had 2.9 yards per carry, but that was because after scoring the touchdown that gave the Niners the lead Hunter had 5 carries that only gained 2 yards with the 49ers trying to run out the clock. Before that, Hunter had 24 yards on 4 rushes.

— Gore had 17 rushes for 42 yards, a 2.5 yard average. Gore hasn’t averaged 3 yards per carry in any of the Niners’ first three games. For the year: 59 carries, 148 yards (2.5 ypc).

— Bruce Miller looked like Tom Rathman from the very beginning, with an 11-yard reception to start the 49ers’ first possession and an 8-yard catch to start the second half.

— Hunter/Miller > Gore/Norris.

— Vernon Davis came back strong after being used mostly as a blocker last week with 8 catches and 114 yards. His 39-yard reception down the right sideline was an outstanding hookup, which begs the question: why don’t the 49ers throw deep to Davis more often? With the rules in today’s NFL that we’re all so familiar with by now, the Niners should at least attempt a couple deep plays each game that could lead to the possibility of a pass interference call. And when it comes to chemistry, Alex Smith has it with Davis above all others.

— Carlos Rogers and the rest of the secondary handled the loss of Donte Whitner quite well in the second half. The Niners changed their gameplan early on, focusing less on stopping Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott after Andy Dalton completed five straight passes to start the game.

— Dalton’s first half numbers: 10-for-16, 0 INT, 90 yards.

— Dalton’s second half numbers: 7-for-16, 2 INT, 67 yards.

— Tarell Brown, after a tough game last week against Dallas, had a great pass defense/deflection late in the game.

— Smith’s first half numbers: 9-for-17, 0 INT, 74 yards.

— Smith’s second half numbers: 11-for-13, 0 INT, 127 yards.

— Smith has a porous offensive line, but he also seems to be of the mind that he’d rather take sacks (5 today after getting sacked 6 times against Dallas) than throw interceptions. That might not be the worst strategy against bad teams like the Bengals. But if the 49ers want to hold onto a winning record this season, they’re going to have to remove the governor at some point. You can’t win NFL games with a Prius when the top teams are rolling in Porsches.

— Even if Michael Crabtree did go out of bounds, that catch he made in the back of the end zone showed why he was drafted. Too bad Fox didn’t show us a conclusive replay as to whether or not Crabtree did step out.

— Yes, I called Crabs a “bust” out of anger during the game (my  maturity level during the game’s dreadful first half was even lower than usual, I’ll admit) — but it was very hard to tell whether Crabtree’s drop on that pass across the middle — that would have led to a first down — was deflected by Rey Maualuga or not. After replaying it about 10 times, it looked to me like Maualuga barely missed tipping Smith’s pass, meaning Crabtree should have hung on. But I could be wrong.

— Speaking of Maualuga, he hails from the same hometown I do (Eureka). Not accusing anyone of anything, but do you think the authorities might be doing a couple background checks on Maualuga, seeing as that 2.5 lb shipment of weed came to Jerome Simpson’s house from … Eureka, Calif.?

— I dropped Simpson on two fantasy teams today. Not because he’s the next Bam Morris, but because he only managed one catch for 6 yards against the Niners’ secondary.

— David Akers, who turns 37 in December, looks like he’ll have a job in the NFL until he’s at least 40. Maybe 45.

— That 20-yard throw to Davis, where they faked the handoff to Gore and sent everyone on the line to the right and then Smith turned around and threw that little floater to the left side, was an incredible play call. That’s what we’ve been waiting for.

— When you’re playing a game as ugly as this one was, and you commit 12 penalties, it helps to win the turnover battle (3 to 1) and control the ball (the Niners led in time of possession, 35:20 to 25:40).

— Michael Vick broke his hand in the Eagles’ 29-16 loss to the Giants today. Who knows, maybe a week from now I’ll be writing about another ugly win that puts the 49ers at 3-1…

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