CINCINNATI (AP) -- One game in, the San Francisco 49ers' trip is already worth writing home about.Kendall Hunter ran 7 yards for the game's only touchdown with 3:59 to go Sunday, rallying the 49ers to a 13-8 victory in front of the Cincinnati Bengals' smallest crowd for a home opener in 30 years.Hunter's run completed the only noteworthy drive by the 49ers (2-1), who didn't even cross midfield until midway through the third quarter.Cincinnati (1-2) was limited to a pair of field goals by Mike Nugent during rookie quarterback Andy Dalton's first dismal performance. He threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, the first of his career.There were only 43,363 fans at 65,500-seat Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals' smallest crowd for a home opener since they played at Riverfront Stadium in 1981.The 49ers sent them heading for the exits when Reggie Smith intercepted Dalton's forced throw with 1:45 left.David Akers kicked three field goals for San Francisco, including a 53-yarder after Dalton's first interception, pushing the lead to 13-6. After Smith intercepted Dalton again with 1:45 to go, punter Andy Lee ran out of the end zone for a safety to finish it off with 2 seconds left.It was a satisfying start to the 49ers' weeklong stay in the Buckeye State. They'll practice at Youngstown State the next few days, then head to Philadelphia for their next game.An ugly arrival ended with Alex Smith's only good moments. He led a 10-play, 72-yard drive, hitting tight end Vernon Davis with a 20-yard pass on a misdirection play to set up the winning touchdown.Until the closing minutes, it appeared the 49ers had forgotten to pack their West Coast offense. Ugliness abounded.Running back Frank Gore fumbled to set up Cincinnati's field goal for a 6-3 lead in the fourth quarter. He also had a pass hit him in the facemask. Referee Jerome Boger said one 49ers false-start penalty was on "the entire offensive line."The late drive saved them. Smith was under constant pressure and finished 20 of 30 overall for 201 yards and five sacks. The 49ers blunted drives with penalties, and Kevin Huber's punts pinned them at their own 10, 11, 12, 14 and 17, leaving too much ground for one of the NFL's least-productive offenses to cover.Also, the 49ers were missing receiver Braylon Edwards, who hurt his right knee during an overtime loss to Dallas last Sunday.The Bengals were at full-strength after deciding to let receiver Jerome Simpson play. He missed two days of practice because he's the focus of an investigation into a drug shipment to his home. He got into the game on the opening series and finished with only one catch for 6 yards.Dalton had passer ratings above 100 in his first two starts, but repeatedly forced throws against the 49ers' defense. He went 17 of 32 for 157 yards and a rating of 40.8.
SANTA CLARA – There is something different about Reuben Foster.
It is similar to when Patrick Willis stepped on the practice field with the 49ers for training camp in 2007. He started out as a backup and had to earn his way onto the field.
All it took was two exhibition games. Brandon Moore was out of the starting lineup. Patrick Willis was in, and seven consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl followed.
Foster is not being handed a starting job with the 49ers. In fact, he faces a more difficult challenge to break into the starting lineup.
In front of Foster is veteran Malcolm Smith at the weakside linebacker spot. Eventually, Foster’s role in the 49ers’ defense will be the middle linebacker spot, where NaVorro Bowman is entrenched as the starter.
But it’s only a matter of time until Foster asserts himself as an every-down player.
Foster will have to earn his way into the starting lineup. He will have to earn respect with how he practices and plays. That was apparent on Thursday when Bowman was asked whether he watched Foster in college. Bowman gave a tepid review of Foster.
That’s understandable. After all, Foster had not practiced with the team until Friday. He was held out practices during the offseason program as he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. It took Bowman a full year before he won his starting job. Bowman started one game as a rookie before establishing himself as a starter and an All-Pro performer the next season.
Bowman is not going to lavish praise on a player who had never made it through an NFL practice – even someone who was the most-accomplished collegiate player on the 49ers’ roster.
Foster received medical clearance on Wednesday to take part on Day 1 of practice when the 49ers opened training camp on Friday. It took almost no time for him to stand out.
Foster intercepted a pass from fellow rookie C.J. Beathard early in Friday’s practice. Then, quite a scene followed. Foster returned it into the end zone through a maze of players -- many of whom were standing behind the line of scrimmage and not even involved in the play.
In his three seasons at Alabama, Foster never intercepted a pass. He was known for his toughness and violent sideline-to-sideline tackling ability.
“It was good to get him out there, get him on the field,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I know he’s been chomping at the bit for a while now. It was good to see him go through it full speed, deal with getting aligned right and stuff. I think he got an interception out there today, which was good for him. It was a good first day.”
Foster could quickly turn into the most-exciting player on a team that is severely lacking in star quality. The 49ers targeted him early in the draft process as a player they wanted. Then, he had to check out physically and mentally for the team to determine when he was a person they wanted, too. When he visited the 49ers before the draft, general manager John Lynch became even more intrigued.
“He’s got an excitement that’s infectious,” Lynch said. “He’s an alpha dog. He wants to lead. He’s ready, he’s eager and we are certainly excited to watch him play.”
The 49ers did not believe his shoulder was a major issue. According to national reports, some teams removed him from their draft boards over concerns about his health. The 49ers would have taken him with the No. 3 pick in the draft if Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas were selected with the top two picks.
Concerns over Foster’s health and a diluted urine sample, which immediately places him into the NFL program for substances of abuse, were the only justifications for his tumble to the end of the first round. The 49ers found a trade partner in the Seattle Seahawks and took Foster with the No. 31 overall pick.
Some teams probably really did have serious concerns about his shoulder. And perhaps those concerns were justified. But, maybe, the teams that could have drafted him feel the need to cover their own backsides for passing on a player who has the look of a special player.
SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers completed contract negotiations with their final unsigned draft pick as the team was going through warm-ups for the first practice of training camp.
Former Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, whom the 49ers selected with the No. 3 overall pick, signed Friday and was expected to join his teammates later in the day.
The sides agreed to the mandatory four-year contract worth more than $28 million, including a signing bonus of approximately $18.6 million. The deal is expected to be fully guaranteed.
The 49ers also have an option for the fifth season (2021) that must be exercised months after the 2019 season.
Thomas was unable to participate in full-squad workouts during the offseason due to Stanford’s late class schedule. NFL rules prohibit a rookie from attending the offseason program until his school’s classes have concluded for the spring session.
The 49ers – and the vast majority of NFL teams – have not had a contract stalemate with a rookie since the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011.
The organization had similar timing with a first-round pick from last year. Guard Joshua Garnett, also from Stanford, signed with the 49ers on the evening before players were scheduled to report to training camp.
Around the NFL, there has been only one notable contract disagreement that prevented a draft pick from reporting to camp in a timely fashion. Defensive lineman Joey Bosa, whom the Chargers selected with the No. 3 pick last year, sat out a month of training camp due to a disagreement over how his bonus would be distributed. Bosa and Thomas are both represented by the agent firm of Creative Artists Agency.