Give the Bengals defense this.
They didn’t hold their ground during Sunday’s 41-17 loss to the 49ers that shocked a Paul Brown Stadium opener crowd expecting to see the same crew that tied the play-off bound Seahawks in knots the week before.
But they did stand up in the locker room after it was over and called themselves out.
And it wasn’t easy because everyone in the building knew how badly they needed a win to sell the fans on head coach Zac Taylor’s New Day.
“We got punched in the mouth. No question about it. It was ugly … We have to fix it,” said right end Sam Hubbard, the Cincinnati kid who was an Opening Day hero last week. “We wanted to play well for the home crowd and obviously it didn’t happen. I have probably more people here than anyone on the team. So I know what you mean.”
They also vowed they would stick together, unlike last year’s defense that finished last in the NFL.
“It’s a new year, a new day. That wasn’t us out there. We have to go out there and play a whole different way. Today, we have to own that,” said left end Carlos Dunlap. “We know who we are this year. We’ve worked too hard to change the culture and create a new identity for ourselves.”
The Bengals defense that was so good last week holding the defending NFL rushing champions to 72 yards missed so many tackles Sunday that the 49ers gouged them for 6.2 yards per. They poured it on in a second half they were simply killing the clock so they could end their week-long East Coast sojourn as quickly as possible and still plowed to 165 yards of their 259 rush yards when the Bengals just simply couldn’t stop it.
Even when the Bengals made a good play, it blew up. In the first half on third-and-one, Bengals tackle Geno Atkins barged into the backfield and made running back Matt Breida cut. When Breida did, there was no support and he went on a 34-yard jaunt on his way to 121 yards on just 12 carries.
The edge was never set like it was in Seattle.
“They challenged us on the edge trying to bounce the ball,” Dunlap said. “They were making more plays than us. I missed some plays early. We have to make plays.”
Hubbard: “They did a lot of lead bend plays where it was the front side and then they bounced it back out and got on the edge. All of us, the defensive line, the linebackers, the secondary, did a poor job of tackling. That’s what it came down to.”
It sounded like safety Shawn Williams had the best explanation of all, even though he was explaining quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s 38-yard touchdown pass to wide open wide receiver Marquise Goodwin barely three minutes into the game.
“A good play for that defense,” Williams. “The guy playing that position did what he’s coached to do. They outcoached that play for what we were in.”
Or, as Dunlap said, “They out-executed us with their game plan … They challenged our eyes and leverage. All day.”
Dre Kirkpatrick and his guys saw plenty of motion and misdirection, the kind that Taylor wants to unleash. In fact, they ran a lot of those screens, too. At the end of the half the Niners pulled off a double pass wide receiver screen for 16 yards on the way to the field goal that made it 24-10 at the half. Fellow cornerback William Jackson called them, “gadget plays. They used every trick in the book.”
“They ran a lot of trick plays — a lot of misdirection plays,” Kirkpatrick said. “There are some things we have to work on, obviously. For the most part, to me personally, they just brought it to us. They outplayed us. They just shoved it down us. We couldn’t get it going today.”
Taylor and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan studied at the same school and this is what Taylor talked about earlier in the week. Shanahan is in the third year of implementing his system. Taylor plans to take his group back to school Monday and he’s going to keep it positive.
“We need to tackle better. We need to get off blocks and we need to tackle better. They’re a good rushing team. They invest a lot of time and energy (in rushing), and that’s always been their forte. We need to do a better job of getting off blocks and making tackles,” Taylor said. “We felt like we were prepared. The players bought in. We had a good plan on both sides of the ball. I had a good feel for what (the 49ers) were going to do both offensively and defensively. They didn’t do anything that surprised us. We just didn’t make the plays that came to us. ‘Embarrassing’ isn’t the word. This is football. It’s going to happen. You’re not going to play your best game sometimes. We just need to learn from this and not let it happen again.”
Hubbard and Dunlap went out of their way to make clear this this didn’t have the whiff of last season, when the Bengals gave up three straight 500-yard games. Sunday’s 572 yards were the fifth most surrendered in team history.
“We’re not discouraged. We know who we are,” Dunlap said. “We have more heart than that. They just out-executed us today. It’s an isolated incident; it’s not a snowball effect.”
Hubbard said there’s clearly a different feel with first-year defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
“There was no bad attitude, screaming at each other on the field,” Hubbard said. “It was better than the hostility we had last year. I think guys were focused on what they were doing wrong rather what other people were doing wrong. Which is good. But we have to correct it.”