Small crowd watches Bengals lose

Published 12:48 am Monday, September 26, 2011

The Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) — It’ll go down as the Bengals home opener that most fans didn’t want to see. Those that did show up found it hard to watch.

Kendall Hunter ran 7 yards for the game’s only touchdown with 3:59 to go Sunday, rallying the 49ers to a 13-8 victory in front of Cincinnati’s smallest crowd for a home opener in 30 years.

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There were only 43,363 fans at 65,500-seat Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals’ smallest crowd for a home opener since they played at Riverfront Stadium in 1981.

“They were pretty loud, even though there weren’t as many people here,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “That’s who you play for, your fans and your family. The only way we’re going to get more people here is to win games.”

Chalk this one up to the young offense.

Cincinnati (1-2) was limited to a pair of field goals by Mike Nugent. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton had his first dismal performance, throwing two interceptions in the fourth quarter — the first of his career.

He went 6 of 7 for 61 yards on an opening drive to a field goal. The rest of the way, Dalton was 12 of 26 for 96 yards with two interceptions and a sack.

“We started fast, which is what you come out to do,” Dalton said. “We were flat after that. We couldn’t do the things we wanted to do.”

After Hunter’s run put the 49ers ahead for the first time, Dalton threw an interception that set up David Akers’ 53-yard field goal for a 13-6 lead. That small crowd headed for the exits when Reggie Smith intercepted him again with 1:45 left. The 49ers took a safety while running out the clock.

Dalton had passer ratings above 100 in his first two starts, but repeatedly forced throws against the 49ers’ defense. He went 17 of 32 for 157 yards and a rating of 40.8.

For the first time, he looked like a rookie.

“In the fourth quarter, he did some things we (knew) he might do at some point, but he will come out of it and be fine,” coach Marvin Lewis said.

Hunter’s run completed the only noteworthy drive by the 49ers (2-1), who didn’t even cross midfield until midway through the third quarter.

It was a satisfying start to the 49ers’ weeklong stay in the Buckeye State. They’ll practice at Youngstown State the next few days, then head to Philadelphia for their next game.

Alex Smith’s only good moments pulled it out for the 49ers. He led a 10-play, 72-yard drive, hitting tight end Vernon Davis with a 20-yard pass on a misdirection play to set up the winning touchdown.

“I think we shut them down for the most part, their running game and their passing game,” Peko said. “They tricked us a little with that tight end delay. We have plenty of room for improvement.”

Until the closing minutes, it appeared the 49ers had forgotten to pack their West Coast offense. Ugliness abounded.

The late drive saved them. Smith was under constant pressure and finished 20 of 30 overall for 201 yards and five sacks. The 49ers underdcut their own drives with penalties, and Kevin Huber’s punts pinned them at their own 10, 11, 12, 14 and 17, leaving too much ground for one of the NFL’s least-productive offenses to cover.

Also, the 49ers were missing receiver Braylon Edwards, who hurt his right knee during an overtime loss to Dallas last Sunday.

The Bengals were at full-strength after deciding to let receiver Jerome Simpson play. He missed two days of practice because he’s the focus of an investigation into a drug shipment to his home. He got into the game on the opening series and finished with only one catch for 6 yards.

Lewis decided a few hours before the game to let Simpson play.

Notes: Bengals RB Cedric Benson carried 17 times for 64 yards, extending the 49ers’ streak of stopping the run. They came in with the league’s top run defense, allowing 54.5 yards per game. They haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in the last 25 games. … Akers made field goals of 23 and 53 yards, giving him 301 in his career. … San Francisco has an 11-3 edge in the series, including two Super Bowl wins. … The smallest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium’s 12-year history was 42,092 for a 29-15 loss to Jacksonville on Dec. 15, 2002. The Bengals went 2-14 that season. … The Bengals are 2 of 21 on third downs in the last two games.