CINCINNATI - Jim Harbaugh said he would have challenged a 10-yard touchdown that was taken away from Michael Crabtree in the third quarter. That is, if he or anyone on his staff had seen a replay of the catch. "We didn't have any view of it," Harbaugh said. "We had no replay view of it. And the official threw his hat early, and we figured he saw it."
On the play, officials ruled that Crabtree had stepped out of bounds before coming back into the end zone to make the catch, an illegal touching penalty that not only wiped away the six points but backed up the 49ers by five yards.
Replays later showed that Crabtree did not go out of bounds. The problem was that FOX didn't show those replays until several plays had been run and challenging the call was impossible. The 49ers later settled for a field goal. Crabtree, meanwhile, said he didn't think he had run out of bounds but was "in the zone" and didn't know for sure.
Lost on the play was the fact that the receiver, still recovering from a broken foot suffered in June, leaped high above the Bengals defensive back to make the catch. Crabtree started the game and, unlike in Week 1, played through the end. He had three catches for 24 yards.
"The injury is behind me now," he said. "I'm healthy enough to continue playing, and I'm going to go out there and do what I need to do."
Running back Frank Gore, who suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter Sunday, was mostly an observer during the 49ers' decisive touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Rookie Kendall Hunter rushed three times for 20 yards on the drive, including a seven-yard touchdown run. Gore had one carry for four yards on the drive and also was targeted on an incomplete pass that went off his facemask.
Gore did not play after the touchdown, which came with five minutes remaining. "I couldn't be myself," Gore said. "Some of the runs, I couldn't make the cut I wanted to make. Hopefully, I get better this week." Gore said he'd have to see how the ankle felt Monday before determining whether he'd be available to play Sunday in Philadelphia.
Harbaugh said that Hunter's increased playing time - he had nine carries for 26 yards - was due to Gore's injury. However, Gore continued to be the main workhorse immediately after his injury while the bulk of Hunter's carries came after Gore fumbled deep in San Francisco territory in the fourth quarter.
As was the case in the first two games, Gore mostly was bottled up Sunday and averaged 2.5 yards. However, Hunter also had a hard time finding room and finished with a 2.9 yards-per-carry average
It didn't take the 49ers long to work rookie fullback Bruce Miller into the game. Miller, substituting for veteran Moran Norris (fibula), caught an 11-yard pass on San Francisco's first offensive play.
Miller also got his first NFL carry, which resulted in a fumble. Miller said he didn't secure the ball properly, but he made sure he came up with it on the bottom of the pile. "When it was on the ground, I had to get it back," he said. "It was at the bottom of the pile, and I was fighting to get it back."
With Norris out, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga also filled in at fullback on two plays when the 49ers were in short-yardage situations. "Hopefully there will be more opportunities coming," Sopoaga said.
David Akers has kicked field goals of 55 and 53 yards in the last two games. Sunday's 53 yarder came with 2:16 left and the 49ers clinging to a four-point lead. "When you're on the road, you've got to take some chances," he said. "And I think that was a good call."
The 49ers called time out before the field goal, but Akers said he knew it was coming. "I knew my team wasn't trying to ice me," he said with a smile. Akers said that Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Brad Seeley wanted as much time as possible to tick off before the field-goal attempt. They also had a discussion before punter Andy Lee purposely took a safety, which left two seconds in the game.
The 49ers defense now has gone 25 straight games without an opposing rusher finishing with 100 or more yards. Cincinnati's Cedric Benson rushed 17 times for 64 yards on Sunday. NaVorro Bowman led all tacklers Sunday with 11. Ahmad Brooks, who was drafted by Cincinnati in 2006, had the 49ers' only sack.
-- Matt Barrows