A week after being trampled in Cleveland, the 49ers held the Bengals’ leading rusher, Giovani Bernard, to 31 yards and the Cincinnati offense to 242 yards, the lowest total for a San Francisco opponent this season.
In that way, it was a typical Levi’s Stadium performance for the defense, which has played with far better energy and drive at home and which entered the game allowing only 15.8 points per game at home.
The problem came at the end of the second quarter, when the Bengals quickly turned two turnovers and one bad punt into three touchdowns.
“In four minutes and 23 seconds, it went from 0-0 to 21-0, OK?” coach Jim Tomsula said. “ ... We have got to understand that we cannot make those fundamental mistakes.”
NaVorro Bowman led all tacklers with 12 stops, including a fourth-down stuff in the first quarter. He is now tied for the league lead in tackles with Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
Nickel cornerback Jimmie Ward also had a strong game, finishing with five tackles, two of them behind the line of scrimmage, and sacking Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron in the third quarter. It was Ward’s first sack.
Ward and McCarron played on the same Pop Warner team as kids – McCarron was a quarterback and Ward a linebacker – but Sunday was the first day he was permitted to hit McCarron.
“They always had the blanket on him; I couldn’t touch him at practice,” Ward said.
In his first NFL start, McCarron was 15 of 21 for 192 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers sacked him four times.
“We were just trying to confuse him,” Ward said. “It was his first start as a quarterback, so we were trying to show him different packages that he hadn’t seen before.”
Draughn and out – Starting running back Shaun Draughn injured his knee in the second quarter and did not return.
Travaris Cadet and Kendall Gaskins took all of the snaps at tailback from that point. With the 49ers playing catch-up in the second half, Gaskins had six catches for 52 yards while Cadet caught four passes for 32 yards.
Draughn became the fourth 49ers runner this season to suffer a significant injury. Starter Carlos Hyde (foot) and his top backup, Reggie Bush (knee), are out for the season. Mike Davis (hand) was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return. He is eligible to return to the active roster this week.
Fullback Bruce Miller also had two carries, including a one-yard touchdown run.
O-line shuffle – Marcus Martin, who started the game at right guard, suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter and did not return. The 49ers compensated by moving tackle Erik Pears to right guard and inserting rookie Trent Brown at right tackle. Brown did not surrender a sack or a quarterback hurry.
The team’s normal right guard, Andrew Tiller, started the game at left guard in place of Alex Boone, who injured his knee last week in Cleveland. Another rookie, Ian Silberman, was active for the first time since Week 1 while Jordan Devey was inactive for the first time this season.
Et cetera – Phil Dawson hadn’t missed a field-goal attempt – 19 straight – since his first attempt in Week 1 was blocked. His fourth-quarter try Sunday also was blocked, this time by 6-6 Bengals defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap.
▪ Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had planned to be on the sideline for today’s game, his first since last month’s shoulder surgery. However, the team’s medical staff decided that the risk of damaging the still-healing shoulder was too great. Kaepernick’s recovery time is four to six months.
▪ The skies around Levi’s Stadium remain full of animus about the 49ers’ owner. A banner reading “Hold Jed Accountable” was being flown around the stadium about two hours before kickoff. Before the last home game, Nov. 29, a banner that read “Jed & 49ers should mutually part ways” was flown before kickoff.
▪ Tomsula won his first replay challenge of the season when the officials determined that San Francisco recovered a late on-side kick. Tomsula had been 0-6 before that challenge.