What it means: The 49ers assured themselves at least a share of first place in the NFC West. They needed until Oct. 31 to win for the second time last season. They're 2-1 under coach Jim Harbaugh, giving them some margin for error heading into a difficult road game against Philadelphia.
What I liked: The 49ers' offense came to life with the game on the line, driving for the tie-breaking touchdown in the fourth quarter. Vernon Davis asked for a bigger role in the offense and delivered by exceeding 100 yards receiving. He made key receptions on the winning drive. The 49ers' defense performed as expected against the Bengals and their young quarterback, Andy Dalton. Holding any NFL opponent to a field goal deep into the fourth quarter should be good enough to win comfortably. The 49ers could not rest until the end, but they'll take the victory and 2-1 record. Late interceptions by Carlos Rogers and Reggie Smith came as a welcome sight for the 49ers after their secondary faltered during critical moments of a defeat to Dallas a week earlier.
What I didn't like: The 49ers' offense continued to struggle for most of the game. Quarterback Alex Smith took five sacks, giving him 11 over the past two games. Frank Gore found little running room. He lost a critical fumble that set up Cincinnati for a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter. He also let a pass bounce off his helmet on the 49ers' winning drive. Earlier, officials called receiver Michael Crabtree for illegal touching, wiping out a touchdown reception. Watching on TV, it was tough to see evidence the call was correct. Former NFL officiating director Mike Pereira, now an analyst for Fox, said he saw no evidence Crabtree had stepped out of bounds before catching the ball in the end zone. He also indicated the 49ers would have had to challenge the play for there to be a review. Perhaps 49ers coaches saw something we could not see watching on TV. If not, they should have challenged this play.
What's next: The 49ers visit the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4.