The Cincinnati Bengals took their high-powered offense on the road to face the San Francisco 49ers. The action started out slow and methodical as both teams got a feel for the system of the other. But the scoring picked up in the second quarter and the Bengals were able to defeat the 49ers 24-14. With the victory, the Bengals clinched their fifth straight playoff berth.
The Bengals offense played it safe and used the running game with young AJ McCarron making his first start. Giovani Bernard was the featured back for most of the play calls as the Bengals attempted to establish the running game. It was hard for Cincinnati to convert on third down, and the 49ers defense was rising to the occasion. Coming into the game, the Niners defense was ranked No. 31 in the league. Hue Jackson and the Bengals were trying to exploit that weakness.
After an 18-yard punt by the Niners, McCarron led the Bengals on a quick 36-yard, five play drive. On first down, feeling a bit more comfortable, McCarron hooked up with Marvin Jones for a 19-yard deep ball. Three plays later, the Bengals used Jeremy Hill to make the score 14-0.
San Francisco got the ball and promptly gave it back to the Bengals. Vontaze Burfict picked Blaine Gabbert and returned the gift to the Niners 20-yard line. McCarron wasted no time and found tight end Tyler Kroft for a 20-yard touchdown catch. One pass and catch put the Bengals up 21-0, and the game was out of hand by halftime.
Bengals coaches had to be pleased with the way McCarron was managing the offense. After suffering two picks against the Steelers, his decision-making was much better. He didn't try to force the ball into coverage and was able to take what the Niners defense was willing to give up. Going forward, he'll need to get better at defining the defensive looks on third down. McCarron took multiple sacks, because of blitzes on third down.
The Bengals tried to make things interesting in the fourth quarter. After cutting the score to 24-14, San Francisco was able to recover the ball on an onside kick and took over on their 45-yard line. Gabbert was able to move the Niners down the field but the drive was killed. Looking for former Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson, Gabbert let the ball fly deep. Cincinnati safety Shawn Williams cut in front of the errant pass and effectively saved the win for the Bengals.
The Bengals managed to make the last few moments of the game more dramatic than needed. Though the game was under control, mental lapses allowed the 49ers to ease back into a game that should have never gotten as close as it was. The running game was only able to generate 68 yards on 36 carries.
According to stats from ESPN, AJ McCarron showed that he can do well under center. But next week, against the stout Denver Broncos defense, the Bengals will have to do much better. With the win and Denver's loss to the Steelers, the Bengals were able to get in better position for the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
[Feature Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]