YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The 49ers pass defense, which currently ranks 16th in the NFL allowing 243.7 yards per game, received a boost last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cornerback Shawntae Spencer and safety Dashon Goldson saw extensive playing time as the team's nickel back and starting free safety, respectively.
Spencer, who was hampered with a hamstring injury for most of the preseason, enjoyed an expanded role in the 49ers defense against the Bengals. The eight-year pro finished the game with a tackle and a pass breakup.
"It's good to be back playing ball," Spencer said on Monday while visiting with children at Youngstown's Boys & Girls Club. "I missed some time in training camp and things like that, but I'm just trying to make up for lost time."
Spencer and Goldson's presence bodes well for a 49ers defense that currently ranks 7th in the NFL, allowing 306.3 yards per game.
Both players bolster an emerging secondary which came up with two, fourth-quarter interceptions against Cincinnati. Free agent addition Carlos Rogers intercepted rookie Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton first, and fourth-year safety Reggie Smith seemingly iced the game with a diving interception late in the game.
Seeing teammates make game-changing plays is always welcomed to Spencer, the consummate team player.
"It's great to see guys making plays that impact the game," he said. "They were impact plays at crucial times."
Goldson, who is in his fifth NFL season, believes it's the experience in the 49ers secondary that's making the difference. On Sunday, the 49ers racked up seven pass breakups.
"We've got a lot of experience back there and some young guys that are getting experience," Goldson added. "We should expect a lot from the secondary this year. We have to go ahead and compete every week and contest every pass to make plays in the secondary."
Goldson, like Spencer, started every game for the 49ers defense the past two seasons. So seeing his first start of the season against Cincinnati wasn't lost on the play-making safety.
"It felt really good to be out there," Goldson admitted. "I haven't played in awhile. Just being out there and being a part of the whole competition and battling aspect of it. That made it that much better and I had a lot of fun."
But what made the game most fun, was the win, and the matter in which it came.
Trailing in the fourth quarter in an unfriendly environment definitely challenged the 49ers, but it made the victory even sweeter.
"It's huge," said Spencer, putting the win into perspective. "Road wins are very tough to come by in this league. To go into a hostile environment is big. It shows a lot of maturity.
"In the past, we haven't played too well on the road. That's changing. Low-scoring, hard-fought ball game and let's try to steal it late –that's how away games are. You see that around the league, it's not just us. You rarely see teams go into someone's house and just blow them out. On the road, there's a lot of different challenging things that you deal with, the crowd, the surface, it's unfamiliar territory so to come out of there with a victory is great."
The 49ers will remain in unfamiliar territory this week as they practice at Youngstown State before traveling to Philadelphia to take on the 1-2 Eagles.
Spencer, a respected veteran in the locker room, believes this trip will be beneficial in the long run.
"You always hear about how the successful teams come together and start hanging out and spend time away from football together," he explained. "I think that's what builds this family and that's what makes you fight that much harder for the man next to you on Sundays. It's good to really sit down and interact with your teammates outside of football and get to know and learn some of the things that they're interested in."