By Sam McPherson
The scoreboard at Levi’s Stadium may have read “24-14” on Sunday, but anyone watching the game could tell you that it really wasn’t that close. The Cincinnati Bengals led the San Francisco 49ers, 24-0, midway through the third quarter, and despite some meaningless touchdowns from the home team, the game was effectively over long before the final whistle blew.
With the loss to the Bengals, the 49ers now stand at 4-10 this year with two games left on the schedule. San Francisco once again was unprepared for the first half of the game, falling behind by three TDs at halftime, to an inexperienced backup Cincinnati quarterback. It’s hard to be taken seriously in the NFL when too many of your games are over by the midway point.
The 49ers ran up 318 yards of total offense, although 118 yards came on the relatively meaningless TD drives after the team fell behind 24-0. QB Blaine Gabbert was 30-for-50 in the game, throwing for just 295 yards and one TD—against three interceptions. Needless to say, this was not his best game, although when you have to throw all the time to catch up, it’s tough on any quarterback.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught the one TD pass, but he also fumbled once. The four turnovers were a disaster for an offense that doesn’t score much. The 49ers running backs totaled just 45 yards on 15 carries, meaning Gabbert had to do it all by himself. He spread the ball around to nine different receivers, but Gabbert averaged just 5.9 yards per passing attempt.
On the bright side, the San Francisco defense held the potent Bengals offense to just 242 yards in the game. The 49ers held the Cincinnati running attack very much in check: The Bengals called 34 running plays and gained only 66 yards on them. That was stellar, and it forced a young QB to beat the San Francisco secondary in order to win the game.
Well, that’s just what A.J. McCarron did. The second-year QB from Alabama was up to the task, completing 15 of 21 attempts for 192 yards and a TD. His QB rating for the game (115.6) was excellent. Without his starting tight end, McCarron still completed passes to six different receivers with relative ease.
Special Teams: B-
Kicker Phil Dawson had a 41-yard field goal attempt blocked, although the kickoff team did execute a nice onside kick recovery later in the game. If Dawson had made the field goal, perhaps the game could have been a little tighter down the stretch for the Bengals. As it was, Cincinnati never really felt threatened by the S.F. comeback attempt. The 49ers did get some excellent kickoff returns themselves (29 yards per return), although the punt team efforts left something to be desired (6.7 yards per return).
49ers Head Coach Jim Tomsula clearly isn’t up to the task of running this team. Like so many road games this season, the San Francisco squad came out and got pounded in the first half, falling behind 21-0. This was really the first ugly home game of the year, and maybe the team has quit on him. In addition, the 49ers committed 11 penalties, and nothing highlights a lack of coaching discipline like excessive penalties. Giving away almost 100 yards in penalty yardage really hurt San Francisco in this game, and that falls on the coaching staff.
Bye Week Didn’t Help The 49ers
The 49ers won their final game heading into the bye week, and a good coaching staff uses that week as a springboard to better play. However, since then, San Francisco is just 1-4 overall. The one win came in overtime, and the 49ers have been outscored by 40 points in those five games. There just isn’t a lot to build on going forward for San Francisco in 2015.
Next up is the season’s final road trip (Detroit), before the 49ers complete their season at home hosting the St. Louis Rams on January 3. If S.F. loses both games, the team will finish with its worst record in a decade. Pride is all that is left for the team this season.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.