CINCINNATI -- Apparently, a week in Youngstown, Ohio is the tonic the San Francisco 49ers didn't know they needed to solve their struggles when traveling across the country.
They do now.
While it's way too early to declare the Niners official playoff contenders, Sunday's blowout 41-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals has them riding high into their Week 3 home matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers and banged up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The victory also gave the Niners their first 2-0 start since 2012 and their first 2-0 start to a season in which the first two games came away from home since 1989.
When the NFL schedule came out in April, the Niners grimaced at the idea of opening with two road games in the Eastern time zone. But they also knew that if they could make it through that pair of games with an unblemished record, it would put them in good position to get back to contending for the postseason. That's why they spent the past week training in Youngstown as a means to adapt to time and climate changes and erase memories of last season's 0-8 road record.
If you think getting off to a hot start isn't important when it comes to the postseason mix, you'd be wrong. Since the current playoff format began in 1990, teams that start 2-0 make the playoffs 61.3 percent of the time. That number drops to 41.4 percent for teams that begin 1-1.
There's a long way to go this season, but the 49ers and their fans couldn't ask for a much better start to the 2019 season.
Describe the game in two words: Total domination. The Niners controlled the action against the Bengals almost from the moment the game started with the offense easily getting yards in big chunks and the defense shutting Cincinnati down on the way to an oh-so-rare easy victory.
QB breakdown: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had an up and down day in Tampa last week but had no such struggles against the Bengals. With coach Kyle Shanahan pressing all the right buttons, Garoppolo was efficient and accurate, save for a forced first-half interception. He finished 17-of-25 passing for 297 yards with three touchdowns and an interception for a passer rating of 131.2.
Credit Shanahan for a creative game plan that sprung receivers open all over the field and a strong running game for providing opportunities to hurt the Bengals through the air. Garoppolo took advantage of those opportunities and undoubtedly built some confidence in his surgically-repaired left knee along the way.
Although Garoppolo made a lot of layups, there was one throw in particular that had to make Shanahan smile. On the first play of the second half, he hung in the pocket as it collapsed around him and delivered an intermediate strike to receiver Deebo Samuel for a 39-yard gain. Garoppolo took a hit and still made the throw, something he hasn't been asked to do much of in the first two weeks but it's an encouraging sign in his continued comeback.
Eye-popping NextGen Stat: One way to help Garoppolo knock off any lingering rust is to throw to wide-open receivers. And they don't get much more open than Marquise Goodwin on the 49ers' opening possession.
On the fourth play of the Niners' first drive, Shanahan dialed up a play that left Goodwin all alone on the left side for an easy 38-yard touchdown pass from Garoppolo. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Goodwin had a whopping 13.2 yards of separation on the play, the most open a receiver has been on a score so far this season and the most separation on a touchdown for a 49er since 2016.