Bengals ready for 49ers, Garoppolo
CINCINNATI (AP) — After practicing on a college soccer field, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo headed for a nearby ice cream store to order one of his favorites: cookies and cream in a waffle cone. Then it was back to the Holiday Inn that was the San Francisco 49ers’ home base for their week in Ohio.
“Youngstown, it’s been nothing but a good time,” the quarterback said.
He’s hoping Cincinnati — the last leg of the stay — is a sweet time, too.
The 49ers opened their season with a 31-17 victory at Tampa Bay , then headed for the Buckeye State rather than make another cross-country commute. They worked out at Youngstown State, practicing on a soccer field converted into a football field. They let their bodies become accustomed to Eastern time.
Their trek home begins with a stop at Paul Brown Stadium — on the western side of the state — against one of Ohio’s surprising NFL teams.
Up in Cleveland, the touted Browns got crushed on their home field, 43-13 by the Titans. In Cincinnati, the Bengals are feeling resurgent after a 21-20 loss in Seattle during Zac Taylor’s head coaching debut.
Although the Bengals didn’t pull off the upset, they looked so much better on offense and defense that players and some of their fans were convinced that a turnaround is ahead for a franchise coming off three straight losing seasons.
“It’s big for confidence,” said Andy Dalton, who threw for a career-high 418 yards. “What we’re going to do here is going to work.”
The Bengals are hoping for a big crowd — a rarity at Paul Brown Stadium lately — and a win for their new coach against a team that’s provided some of their worst moments. San Francisco is 11-4 all-time against Cincinnati, including two of Joe Montana’s four Super Bowl wins in the 1981 and 1988 seasons.
The 49ers are looking for one more fond memory in Ohio as they try to go 2-0 for the first time since 2012. They haven’t opened the season with back-to-back road wins since 1989.
Some things to watch at Paul Brown Stadium:
Garoppolo showed a little bit of rust in his first game after a knee injury last September. He completed 18 of 27 for just 166 yards against Tampa Bay, throwing one touchdown pass and an interception that was returned for a score. He mostly worked underneath the coverages, completing only one pass that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, a 39-yard TD pass to Richie James Jr. He finished with his fewest yards in 11 career starts.
“I missed a couple throws that I think usually I would’ve hit,” Garoppolo said. “That’s just part of it.”
GET THE BALL
The Niners set records for futility last season when they recorded just seven takeaways and two interceptions. Fixing that problem was an emphasis in the offseason with additions of pass-rushing ends Dee Ford and Nick Bosa and a more aggressive approach on defense. It paid dividends in the opener when San Francisco recovered a fumble against Tampa Bay and intercepted three passes, returning two for touchdowns.
“Just like not getting them can be contagious, so can getting them,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Both teams struggled to run the ball in their openers. San Francisco gained just 98 yards on 32 carries against Tampa Bay, and Tevin Coleman sprained an ankle. The Bengals managed only 34 yards on 14 carries, with Joe Mixon spraining an ankle. Reserves Matt Breida and Giovani Bernard are expected to move into bigger roles as both teams try to get the ground game going.
REVVED UP DEFENSE
A defense that was among the worst in Bengals history last season gave an impressive first showing in Seattle, holding the Seahawks to 233 total yards and 12 first downs. Cincinnati went through three defensive coordinators in the past two seasons, and the unit was decimated by injuries last year. Lou Anarumo brought in yet another system that looked good in its first time out.
“I knew that we’ve got guys on each level of defense who have played good, winning defense here,” Anarumo said. “Our job as coaches is to get them to do it again.”
The Bengals averaged only 50,753 fans for home games last season, the second-smallest attendance in the league. Fans were turned off by Marvin Lewis’ run of 16 straight seasons without a playoff victory, and they initially seemed unconvinced by the offseason coaching changes as the two preseason games drew small crowds.
How much will the solid showing in Seattle do to win them back?
“Unfortunately we didn’t win that game, but I’d like to think that the people who watched the game and the people that came to the game to support us saw the type of team they want to represent and be excited about,” Taylor said. “That’s a step in the right direction.”
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