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Bengals clinch playoff spot with win over 49ers


The Bengals' resolve was tested a week ago during a punchy loss to the rival Steelers, but Cincinnati (11-3) got right back on track with a 24-14 win over the 49ers (4-10) in San Francisco. The victory officially clinched a spot in the playoffs for the fifth straight season, though the division title is still up in the air thanks to a gutsy performance by Pittsburgh against the Broncos.

Here's what we learned...

1. Hue Jackson insisted that he wasn't going to cut down the playbook on AJ McCarron, and while we'll never know if he was telling the whole truth -- the Bengals were up by 24 points early in the third quarter -- Jackson did allow his young backup to go deep. McCarron throws a nice long ball, and connected on chunk plays to both A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, which kept the 49ers out of the box for a good portion of the game. It helps that Jackson might very well be the best play-caller in football right now. He's well on his way to getting another shot at a head coaching gig. McCarron, on the other hand, has some happy feet to work through, but what young NFL quarterback doesn't?

2. The 49ers played in a relatively quiet stadium on Sunday afternoon, that is until halftime when a resounding cacophony of boos broke out to usher the team inside the tunnel. This is a sad situation given how deep this roster was just two years ago. This is a team with good fans and a nice new stadium that just saw everything completely disintegrate in a matter of months. The truly sad part is that there are players who, unfazed by the reality of the situation, still show up and play their tails off -- running back Shaun Draughn and linebacker NaVorro Bowman among them. And good on Bowman, who was still in the middle of everything Sunday, scolding players for committing poor penalties.

3. Fresh off a testy game a week ago, Vontaze Burfict was still heated but directed that energy nicely. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther dialed up a fine linebacker blitz in the first half that gave Burfict his first sack of the season. A few minutes later, he recorded his first interception of the year, which pushed the Bengals to a 21-0 halftime lead. If nothing else, he is good enough -- and the Bengals defense is good enough -- to give the Broncos a decent game next week in prime time.

4. All great NFL teams get picked apart by free agency and coach-needy franchises, but seeing this band break up will be truly upsetting. In the third quarter after Giovani Bernard lowered the boom on 49ers safety Eric Reid, Marvin Lewis was there ready to give him a hug and a helmet tap. Jackson was not far behind. This team shows both the highs and lows associated with patience, but few clubs are having more fun than the Bengals right now. Few have a more familial atmosphere.

5. Jeremy Hill remains a bit of a concern. His yards per carry are down, and after already receiving multiple benchings in 2015 for ball security issues, he coughed up another that set the 49ers up with their first points of the night. As the team's primary goal-line option, this isn't exactly inspiring confidence, and as we drift further into power football season, Hill needs to come to terms with his errors.

6. Good for Blaine Gabbert, who probably earned himself a chance to compete for a starting job next season again. His contract runs through the 2016 season, and even though the 49ers are hopeful that they can find answers for Colin Kaepernick, Gabbert may have been the best part about this offense down the stretch.