QUARTERBACKS -- Grade: A
Positives: Shaun Hill displayed pocket presence, got the ball out quickly with pinpoint passes and moved the offense throughout the game, directing five drives of nine plays or more as the 49ers set a season-high with 22 first downs. Hill was outstanding, completing 75 percent of his passes for 197 yards, including a precise 17-yard touchdown strike to Vernon Davis, and he also scored on a nifty three-yard bootleg during which he beat a safety to the corner of the end zone.
Negatives: Well, Hill did fumble San Francisco's second offensive snap, but showing his coolness, he picked it up and threw for a first down. Some negative.
Bottom line: Hill's performance was the best, most consistent four quarters of football played by a San Francisco quarterback this season, and his 105.8 passer rating also was the best by a 49ers QB in a game this year.
RUNNING BACKS -- Grade: A
Positives: This was vintage Frank Gore, powering between the tackles, hitting the holes quickly, taking on defenders and burrowing for extra yardage. The 49ers fed Gore for a season-high 29 carries, and he perfectly complemented an effective short passing game as the offense controlled the flow of the game. Moran Norris, who hasn't been much of factor this season, had a few nice blocks and also converted on a short third-down run.
Negatives: It's difficult to find any at all.
Bottom line: It was a tough, gritty performance by Gore that wore down the Bengals and allowed the 49ers to control the ball for 36 minutes.
WIDE RECEIVERS -- Grade: B-plus
Positives: Darrell Jackson had his best game of the year with season-high totals of eight receptions for 86 yards and he consistently got open and held onto passes. He schooled rookie cornerback Leon Hall, who could not cover him. There was some good blocking down the field on running plays.
Negatives: The 49ers didn't get the rest of their wideouts much involved in the attack as Arnaz Battle's two receptions were the only other catches by this unit.
Bottom line: This is the guy the 49ers thought they were getting when they traded for Jackson during draft weekend.
TIGHT ENDS -- Grade: B-plus
Positives: Vernon Davis had five receptions, most of them underneath coverage, then took on defenders after the catch. He also ran a nice route to get in between two Bengals on his 17-yard touchdown reception. Delanie Walker had a couple of receptions, and the blocking by Davis and Billy Bajema was solid.
Negatives: There were soft spots in the middle of Cincinnati's coverage, and the 49ers should have tried to hit a few longer passes with Davis, who was getting open.
Bottom line: A solid all-around effort from this unit, and Davis' nice end-zone catch is something the 49ers need to see more often.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: A-minus
Positives: It all starts up front on offense, and this unit might have played its most consistent game of the season, if not its best overall. There was some excellent push in the run game as Larry Allen and Joe Staley, in particular, cleared out space. The pass blocking also was good, allowing time for Hill to look for his secondary options when the first wasn't there.
Negatives: There were two sacks, once when Robert Geathers powered in from the right side. Geathers had two quarterback hits and was a load for Staley to handle.
Bottom line: Strong blocking for the run and solid in pass protection, this was truly a winning performance.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: B
Positives: Unit was excellent against the run, clogging space up front as the Bengals averaged just 3.2 yards per carry while rushing for only 61 yards. Marques Douglas didn't just clog space; he made four tackles, three of them solo.
Negatives: There wasn't much pressure on Palmer, who took deep drops and had time in the pocket. Bryant Young had him trapped once, but didn't wrap and Palmer was able to break away.
Bottom line: Nice job stopping the run and forcing the Bengals to the air, but needed to get more pressure on passing downs.
LINEBACKERS -- Grade: B
Positives: Swarmed to the football and didn't allow Bengals to break anything as Cincinnati's longest run went for nine yards. The Bengals had only two rushing first downs. Patrick Willis made some nice plays on his own and had a blow-up hit on running back Kenny Watson. Jeff Ulbrich also got his nose in on some plays. Derek Smith and Tully Banta-Cain both knocked away passes at the goal line to limit the Bengals to a field goal.
Negatives: Smith didn't turn in coverage and allowed tight end Daniel Coats to reel in a 25-yard catch right next to him. Smith didn't have a tackle and there wasn't much back-side pursuit.
Bottom line: Cincinnati's ground game went nowhere, and there was some timely plays made in coverage against a very good passing team.
SECONDARY -- Grade: B
Positives:The 49ers kept the NFL's fifth-ranked passing attack relatively in check and did a decent job containing Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, arguably the league's top tandem of wideouts. Donald Strickland was very active with six tackles and also knocked down a pass.
Negatives: Safety Michael Lewis got over late as Palmer hooked up with Chris Henry on a 52-yard touchdown bomb for Cincinnati's only touchdown. The secondary had a few opportunities at interceptions but couldn't make the plays.
Bottom line: Considering the time Palmer had to throw, this was a very solid effort against a premier passing team.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- Grade: A-minus
Positives: Andy Lee had a 45.5 average on his two punts, including a 54-yarder. The coverage units were excellent as Cincinnati started its eight drives, on average, at its own 23-yard line. Keith Lewis had some nice hits and displayed why he's one of the league's premier special teams players. Michael Robinson blew through an opening and displayed his power on a 30-yard kickoff return. Joe Nedney split the uprights with both of his field-goal attempts.
Bottom line: Once again, these units got the better of their counterparts on the other sideline and did their part contributing to a victory.
COACHING -- Grade: B
Positives: Had the team ready to play from the start, and the offensive game plan was perfectly-tailored to the new starting quarterback and featured a nice mix of run and pass. The defensive plan to contain a potent offense also was solid.
Negatives: Mike Nolan's decision to go for a first down on fourth-and-2 at the Cincinnati 24 with 6:31 remaining in the game instead of kicking a 41-yard field goal that would have put his team up by 10 points was horrible.
Bottom line: One bad call doesn't negate everything what went right in the 49ers' best game of the season.
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