San Francisco (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1)

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By ALAN FERGUSON, STATS Writer Friday, Sep 23, 2011 Kickoff: 1:00 pm EDT Sun Sep 25, 2011

Winning consistently has never been the Cincinnati Bengals’ strong suit, but they’re hoping a pair of talented rookies could begin to change that.

After performing well in a close loss, quarterback Andy Dalton(notes) and wide receiver A.J. Green(notes) make their home debuts Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Bengals have registered two winning seasons since 1990, including a 10-6 finish two years ago. They followed that by going 4-12 in 2010, but that gave them a chance to snap up Green with the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft and grab Dalton early in the second round.

With Carson Palmer(notes) embroiled in a dispute with the franchise, Dalton has been given the chance to jump into the starting lineup immediately.

After throwing for 81 yards before leaving with a wrist injury in pro debut at Cleveland, the former TCU quarterback nearly led his team to a comeback victory at Denver last Sunday.

Cincinnati (1-1) fell behind 17-3 early in the third quarter, but Dalton threw a pair of touchdown passes to pull the Bengals within two points with 11:17 left in the game. That’s as close as they got, though, failing to get inside the Broncos’ 35-yard line on their final three possessions in a 24-22 defeat.

Dalton finished with 332 yards while completing 27 of 41 passes. Green caught 10 of those for 124 yards and a TD.

The former University of Georgia star scored a 41-yard touchdown on his first NFL reception during a season-opening victory in Cleveland.

“They’re showing they’ve grown quite a bit in the short training camp we had and the last couple of games,” running back Cedric Benson(notes) said.

The rookie duo will try to continue that growth against a San Francisco team that blew a chance to remain unbeaten under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh.

The 49ers (1-1) held a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter Sunday against visiting Dallas, but gave up the final 13 points in a 27-24 overtime defeat.

“We have to be mentally tough. We have to keep looking each other in the eye, keep preparing,” Harbaugh said. “This is not going to defeat us.”

Harbaugh’s team will try to bounce back without receiver Braylon Edwards(notes), who needed surgery after injuring his right knee in the loss to the Cowboys. His timetable for returning is unknown.

“He’s going to be out for a little bit,” Harbaugh said.

Michael Crabtree(notes), however, should be back after sitting out last week’s game. The third-year receiver aggravated his surgically repaired left foot in a 33-17 Week 1 win over Seattle.

The Bengals, meanwhile, have their own issues among their receiving corps.

Slot receiver Jordan Shipley(notes), who led all AFC rookies with 600 yards on 52 receptions last season, tore his left ACL in the loss to Denver. Jerome Simpson(notes), on the other hand, is questionable to play Sunday as authorities are investigating a 2 1/2-pound package of marijuana that was tracked to the fourth-year receiver’s home.

Authorities found another six pounds of pot inside the house. Though Simpson hasn’t been arrested, he missed practice on Thursday and Friday.

Those absences could mean more playing time for Andre Caldwell(notes), who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass - his first since 2009 - last Sunday.

“You saw once Jordan was out of the game, (Andre) stepped in and caught a couple passes, caught a touchdown. So the play didn’t really drop off,” Dalton said. “He came in and played well. So he does have the experience and he understands what’s going on. We’re sad to see what happened to Jordan, but you have to have guys step up.”

The 49ers have won eight of 11 regular-season matchups - including a 20-13 home victory in 2007 - against the Bengals, their opponent in two of their five Super Bowl victories.

San Francisco, though, has dropped its last two games in Cincinnati and is making its first visit there since Dec. 14, 2003. The 49ers have also dropped five straight road games against AFC opponents.

To end that drought, they could use a better performance from Frank Gore(notes), who is gaining just 2.5 yards per carry - the second-lowest average among the 18 backs with at least 30 carries.

In his only matchup with the Bengals, Gore rushed for 138 yards on 29 attempts.

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Week 12