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CBSSports.com National Columnist

It's not pretty at all to watch, but Niners are winning


San Francisco RB Frank Gore carries the ball 17 times for 42 yards against the Bengals. (Getty Images)  
San Francisco RB Frank Gore carries the ball 17 times for 42 yards against the Bengals. (Getty Images)  

CINCINNATI -- For me, the pivotal moment in the 49ers' 13-8 victory against the Bengals came in the fourth quarter. By then Frank Gore had already fumbled and had a pass bounce incomplete off his face. By then Vernon Davis had already dropped one pass and fumbled another out of bounds. By then the 49ers had lost one touchdown to a penalty and then, two plays later, had been penalized at the 5-yard line by an official who announced, "False start, offense -- the entire offensive line."

For me the pivotal moment Sunday came after all that, seconds after Davis caught a pass downfield from Alex Smith and fumbled out of bounds. In my notebook after that play -- where I dutifully mark down the game's play-by-play -- I excitedly wrote the word "downfield." Only I wrote it with an exclamation mark, like this:


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Because it seemed like a big deal: The 49ers had finally thrown the ball downfield! But then I did the math in my head and realized this pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis that had gone so far downfield -- sorry, downfield! -- had gone exactly 8 yards.

So I'll be honest with you -- I'm disappointed with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Well, no, that wouldn't be completely accurate, or even fair. After three games as coach of one of the NFL's worst franchises of the 21st century, Harbaugh has the 49ers at 2-1. So it's probably better to say this of Harbaugh, who captivated me last year at Stanford to the point that I took to Twitter to lobby my alma mater to hire him:

I'm not disappointed with him -- I'm bored with him.

Bored with his offense.

Not that it matters, really, but I'm at this game to write my opinion on it, and that's my opinion: The 49ers' offense is boring. There were other stories to write, I suppose: The 49ers were gritty. The 49ers were resilient. Frank Gore fumbled and had a ball hit him in the face. Vernon Davis gently pouted last week about not getting the ball enough, and in the next game he dropped one pass and fumbled another.

Keep in mind, the 49ers won. All of those ugly things I've written to this point -- the drops, the fumbles, the penalties, the boring -- are true, but so is this: The 49ers won.

Which lets you know just how badly the Bengals played.

They were abysmal. They were embarrassing, and not just during the game, when they produced 228 yards of offense -- 2 more than the 49ers -- and had three turnovers and went 1 of 10 on third down. The Bengals embarrassed themselves during the game, yes, but they humiliated themselves beforehand by allowing Jerome Simpson to suit up, and then to play.

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San Francisco
San Francisco
To classify this win as anything less than ugly would be a mistake, but those are the types of games the 49ers need to win this year. Their defense kept the game close and put it away with two late interceptions, but the 49ers badly need to find consistency on the attack.
Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati's offense took a dramatic step back against San Francisco. The 49ers presented the toughest task of the season for rookie QB Andy Dalton, but they were sloppy. After going 1 of 11 against Denver on third downs, they were 1 of 10 Sunday.
By Paul Dehner
RapidReports Correspondent

Simpson is the guy whose house was searched a few days ago after a 2.5-pound shipment of marijuana arrived there. Police found another 6 pounds of pot inside the home, and if that sounds like a lot of marijuana for one household, fret not -- police also found paraphernalia meant to distribute the marijuana.

An alleged drug-dealing operation, right there in Jerome Simpson's house. But it's a complicated case involving multi-state jurisdictional issues, and charges have yet to be filed. Not against Simpson. Not against the woman at his house, reportedly his girlfriend, who signed for the marijuana shipment. Not against anyone.

With that to hide behind, the Bengals issued a pregame statement that they were allowing Simpson to play because "Jerome's legal situation with regard to events of the past week remains completely unresolved and the Bengals believe it is inappropriate to act on any presumption of what may transpire."

Bengals fans weren't impressed. This is a city that has tolerated a lot of nonsense, from Chad Johnson Ochocinco's serial selfishness to Carson Palmer's retirement rebellion to the presence of some of the most criminal souls in the NFL, including Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson and Cedric Benson.

But an alleged drug dealer at receiver? Bengals fans didn't tolerate that. First, lots of them skipped the game. The crowd was announced at 43,363 -- barely two-thirds the capacity of Paul Brown Stadium -- but the crowd wasn't really that big. How big was it? I don't know. I didn't count it by hand.

But I could have.

Anyway, lots of the folks who did show up booed Simpson every time he ran onto the field, and they even booed him after he caught a pass for 6 yards, his only reception of the game.

Embarrassing, Bengals. This was a new low, even for a Mike Brown operation. So I could write that. And I guess, sort of, I just did.

But really, the revelation for me from Sunday's game was something else. Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis are soft on (alleged) crime? Nothing revelatory there.

Jim Harbaugh runs a boring system? That's news. Well, it's news to me. The 49eres had played twice before, obviously, and were a frantic Tony Romo-led comeback away from being 2-0. Alex Smith was coming into his own. On the surface, this looked like a team to watch.

It's not. Not for me, anyway. The West Coast offense has never been a dirty phrase to me, but Harbaugh's version of it is. No wonder his quarterback, Smith, had completed 70.5 percent of his passes through two games; just about all he throws are screen passes. Screens to the running back. Screens to the tight end. And for variation, sometimes he throws screens to receivers. Hence my excitement when Smith threw the ball downfield -- downfield! -- 8 whole yards to Vernon Davis. Who then fumbled.

Maybe that's the only way Smith can succeed in the NFL, is throwing tiny passes. That seems plausible, given his body of work through his first six years in the NFL, though Smith's best two plays Sunday were longish passes to Davis for gains of 22 and 39 yards. Maybe the 49ers should try more of that.

Then again, the 49ers are 2-1. Maybe I should just let Harbaugh do what he's doing. It seems to be working.

It just doesn't seem like much fun to watch.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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