In Sunday’s 24-14 win at San Francisco, the Bengals averaged a paltry 1.9 yards on their 36 rushes, converted a mere 4 of 14 third down opportunities (29%), and had to punt a season-high eight times.
“We wanted it to be pretty, you know?” said Marvin Jones with a laugh.
In this case it was substance over style.
Playing for the first time in 82 games without Andy Dalton at quarterback, the Bengals relied on a ball-hawking defense and Kevin Huber’s booming left leg to methodically beat the 49ers.
“We knew coming into this game that defense was going to be key with AJ (McCarron) making his first start,” said Domata Peko. “They say a quarterback’s best friend is running the ball and a good defense so we were really trying to elevate our level of play. Thank God that we did.”
The Bengals defense finished with four takeaways including a fumble that was forced and recovered by Carlos Dunlap midway through the second quarter. It gave the Bengals the ball at the San Francisco 11-yard-line and led to a one yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill.
“That’s something we needed,” said Jones. “We were off to a slow start.”
“(Carlos) is known for doing that type of stuff,” said Peko. “Hawking fools down. Hawking receivers and running backs down and stripping the ball. That was a big play defensively. We needed something to get us going and Carlos did that.”
On San Francisco’s next drive, a “shank you very much” 18-yard-punt by Bradley Pinion led to Hill’s second short TD. On the 49ers following possession, an interception by Vontaze Burfict set up a 20-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to rookie tight end Tyler Kroft.
“It was awesome,” said Kroft after his first NFL TD. “It was kind of everything I dreamed of. They sent pressure and AJ and I knew that I was the hot read on that play so it worked out like it was supposed to.”
After sputtering on their first five drives, the Bengals scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes.
“It took us a little while to get our footing, but when we needed to put points on the board we did it,” said Kroft.
McCarron did exactly what the Bengals asked him to, completing 15 of 21 passes for 192 yards with 1 TD and 0 INT for a passer rating of 115.6.
“The biggest difference in the football game is that Blaine Gabbert had three interceptions and AJ didn’t have any,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham.
“He was cool, calm, and collected,” said Kroft. “Everything that you want in a quarterback.”
“I think he did a great job,” said Hill. “He didn’t turn the all over and that was huge.”
Taking care of the ball was enough to beat San Francisco, but the offense is likely going to have to be far more effective next week in Denver. A win would clinch the AFC North and give the Bengals a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“This is going to be a huge game for us and everybody knows that,” said Jones.
“It feels awesome that we’re in the dance for the fifth time in a row,” said Peko. “But we’re looking to do some damage this year and go further than we’ve ever been. We’re trying to get the ring.”
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