Deja vu defense

Posted: 10:15 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO - The Bengals defense prepped for next Sunday's game against the Browns with disturbing deja vu during Saturday night's 20-13 loss.

A quarterback sneaked out of oblivion to throw down a big number on them, including a crushing touchdown pass with nine seconds left in the first half that shifted the game for good.

Which is what Browns quarterback Derek Anderson did in the second week of the season when he changed the biosphere of the AFC North with a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Winslow with 1:06 left in the first half that gave Cleveland a 28-21 halftime lead in that 51-45 win over the Bengals.

Shaun Hill's first NFL start at age 27 wasn't nearly as spectacular Saturday. His longest throw with a broken right index finger was 19 yards, but he bobbed and weaved out of the pocket to keep drives alive and used 4.8 yards per 29 Frank Gore carries to spit out a classroom-perfect 105.8 rating.

"They did a good job of protecting the quarterback with quick throws," said strong safety Dexter Jackson. "Every time we stopped them the quarterback made some big plays on third down. He kept drives alive. When we play man-to-man and the quarterback is scrambling, it's tough when you've got your back turned."

Hill killed them twice with his legs, once on the game's first touchdown when a blown assignment failed to contain him on a three-yard untouched bootleg to the right corner, and again on a 12-yard quarterback draw up the middle on third-and-eight that kept the clock running with 9:16 left in the game.

But his 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis down the middle of the field at the end of the half gave the Niners the lead (14-10) and karma for good.

"I had a route where I could pick across the field or take the middle, " Davis said. "I ran up the middle, turned around and the ball was right there, caught it and it was a touchdown. Two guys collided, but they didn't knock me down."

Hill had time for only one shot into the end zone and he hit Davis racing past middle linebacker Landon Johnson and turning in front of Jackson on a play Jackson said the Bengals were applying zone principles.

"We were in a defense that they had the right call on," Jackson said of the score. "It's a game of chess and they made the right move there. We could have played it better but they made the throw, they made the catch, and it was a touchdown."

Hill: "We saw them in a Cover 2, so I knew there would be linebackers on him. Vernon did a good job of splitting the safeties then holding on after a tough hit."

Everyone in the Bengals agreed it was a backbreaker.

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Smith

"Huge," said defensive end Justin Smith. "As a defense, you can't let that happen."

The trend continues. In 11 of the 14 games, the foes have scored points in the last 2:06 of the first half. In six of the games, they have scored touchdowns. In seven games, they have scored points in the last 13 seconds.

"That was big; we can't let them score there," said defensive tackle John Thornton . "We come out in the second half and hold them to a field goal. That 10-point swing, that's disappointing. We had been playing well on defense lately, but we just weren't sharp today.

"The difference was on first down. Whether it was play-action or run, they got us behind the 8-ball. We didn't get ahead in the count. It's like a pitcher getting behind."

With Gore not getting touched for his first four or five yards, Hill was able to work primarily out of a two tight-end set made possible by the favorable down and distance. He finished 21-of-28 for 197 yards, but it was Gore's 138 yards that brought back bad memories for Cincinnati.

It was the first time since Nov. 4 that a runner had gone for 100 against the Bengals, and was a blow to a unit that had allowed an average of 73 yards on the ground in the previous five games.

Football really is an easy game.

"They only had about four or five (running) plays," Smith said. "They were running power leads, then they'd change up to a draw, then back to a lead."

The ball-control was huge. It looked like Palmer had found holes in the secondary (somehow Clements got a game ball even though Johnson outran him all day), but after he hit wide receiver Chris Henry on a 52-yard touchdown pass to give the Bengals a 10-7 lead with 4:38 left in the first half, Palmer only had the ball for five plays in the third quarter.

The Bengals had the ball for just eight series with the Niners able to string together three of at least 6:09. When the Niners eschewed a 41-yard field goal with 6:21 left in the game that would have given them a two-score lead, Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said, "I was actually shocked. But the coach has confidence in their defense. Guess what? They helped him out with that one. He showed confidence in them and there was a good reason why."

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