By: Joe Lami
The Cincinnati Bengals are returning to the playoffs for the fifth straight year after they beat the San Francisco 49ers 24-14 at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday. Quarterback, AJ McCarron made his first career start in the win. He was forced into the game after first-stringer, Andy Dalton broke a thumb last week against Pittsburg. The second-year quarterback also snapped a 25-year winless streak from Alabama quarterbacks with the victory.
McCarron was blessed by excellent field position handed to the Bengals by San Francisco. All three of their touchdown drives started within the 49ers’ 36-yard line. He finished the day passing for 192 yards completing 15 of 21 for one touchdown.
Both teams struggled mightily in the first quarter, combining for just four total first downs. San Francisco handed the game to the Bengals in the second, though, turning the ball over three times and having a punt that netted 18 yards. Two of the turnovers were because of Vance McDonald as he trouble catching easy passes. Bobbling them both, Adam “Packman” Jones benefited from the first and Vontaze Burflict intercepted the second. McDonald commented afterwards, “You’ve got to have a short memory in this game. Just have to execute. It’s simple, little things, and I’m capable of doing that”.
Anquan Boldin coughed the ball up to set up the first Bengals’ score as he got rocked by Carlos Dunlap at his own 32 yard-line. Jeremy Hill found the end-zone for Cinci twice, both from one-yard out for Cincinnati.
McCarron added to the lead with just 58 seconds left in the half with his only touchdown of the day. He found tight end Tyler Kroft from 20 yards out to make it 20-0. Kroft was in for the injured Tyler Eifert.
After the abysmal second quarter, San Francisco owned much of the second half but not until the Bengals went up 24, thanks to a Mike Nugent 22-yard field goal. Bruce Miller got the party going with a one-yard touchdown run for his first of the season. San Francisco tried to cut more into the lead in the fourth quarter, but a 41-yard Phil Dawson field goal attempt was blocked. It ended the streak of 19 straight for the 40-year old vet.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw his only touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. He found Boldin in the back left part of the end-zone for his only score. He finished the day 30 of 50 for 295 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. His third interception came under two minutes to go, as the Niners were trying to get within one score. His goal line pass intended for Jerome Simpson was picked by Shawn Williams as he out-battled Simpson to unofficially end the game. McCarron commented on his first win as an NFL QB, “They had turnovers, we didn’t, and that’s the key to the game. I felt good about it”.