CINCINNATI — The 49ers' defense was overshadowed by an offense that put 41 points and 572 yards on the board against the Bengals, but it still had a Sunday not to forget.
San Francisco held Cincinnati to 316 yards in total offense, including a shockingly low 25 on the ground. Another 66 yards of that total came on the Bengals' final offensive play -- a garbage-time touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to John Ross. Take that away, and the Bengals' total offensive output was 250 yards as the 49ers rolled 41-17 at Paul Brown Stadium.
That one week after the 49ers held the Buccaneers to 17 points and 295 total yards in a season-opening road win.
Ronald Blair, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner all recorded quarterback sacks Sunday, and linebacker Kwon Alexander logged his first interception as a 49er and the seventh of his NFL career. The defense also racked up eight pass break-ups, with Alexander responsible for three, Ahkello Witherspoon and D.J. Reed for two apiece, and Jullian Taylor for one.
The 49ers' new attitude on defense is noticeable, and much of the credit for that goes to Alexander and defensive end Dee Ford being added to the lineup and, of course, veteran cornerback Richard Sherman's presence.
Jimmy Garoppolo explained how unique the group is and how Alexander really has changed the mood.
"Yeah, Kwon's awesome, man," the 49ers quarterback said. "He really is. The defense as a whole, it’s a different attitude, and I’ve never been around a defense like that. When I turn the ball over and they hold them to a field goal and miss it, it just gives you so much more confidence in those guys. They played their asses off, and it’s incredible."
Alexander could be considered an instigator of sorts. He's always seen on the sideline with a lot of energy, and if any trash talk is happening on the field, you'd best believe that he's involved. He also takes full responsibility for second-year pro Fred Warner's vocal emergence this season.
Alexander believes motivation is cyclical, with all phases of the game keeping the energy high for each other. He thrives off it.
"Everybody buying in, doing what they got to do," Alexander said. "Offense doing what they got to do running the ball, D going out there making plays and turnovers ...
"Everybody was just feeding off each other, and once you do that, once you get a team feeding off each other and playing fast, you’re going to win a lot of games."
So, while the offense had a better showing Sunday, the defense is what could keep the 2-0 49ers' upward trajectory on course. Not only is the unit capable of helping pull out a win when the offense struggles, but the defense can alleviate pressure on Jimmy G and Co. to perform.