The San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals in an overtime thriller on Sunday. The victory came on a 12-yard touchdown catch by second-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
A solid first-half marked by a pair of touchdowns, consistent pressure by the defense, and two muffed punt recoveries on special teams gave the 49ers a 17-6 lead going into halftime.
Late in the game, however, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and the rest of the offense began to heat up, unleashing their star rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Chase had an impressive game with 77 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Tied 20-20, it all came down to a last-second Robbie Gould field goal to save the day — but the kick sailed wide right.
Cue an exciting overtime finale, where the 49ers defense stifled the high-powered Bengals offense once and for all by holding them to a field goal. Then, the Niners offense pulled off a touchdown drive of their own with the help of some heroic catches by star tight-end George Kittle and receiver Juaun Jennings.
The 49ers earned the win after Brandon Aiyuk leaped for the end zone to bring the final score to 26-23.
Let’s take a closer look at the Niners’ player performances during their seventh win of the season.
It was clear early on that the 49ers couldn’t win the game their preferred way, which is running the ball down opponents’ throats. Instead, they had to turn to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the passing game. Garoppolo had a solid day, completing 27 of 41 pass attempts along with 296 total yards, 2 touchdowns, and a 103.3 QB rating.
Jimmy G was sacked 5 times as the offensive line struggled through much of the game. Linemen Daniel Brunskill and Tom Compton had trouble preventing pressure from reaching Garoppolo. Even left tackle Trent Williams, who’s having a career year, was getting beat by Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson.
George Kittle carried the offense on his back with a dominant performance of 13 receptions, 151 yards, and a touchdown. It would have been more if not for a one-handed drop on a pass interference no-call. Kittle missed time earlier in the season due to a lingering calf injury, but he’s making up for it now with back-to-back weeks of over 150 receiving yards.
Also stepping up in the 49ers passing game were receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings, who each made crucial plays.
As for the rushing attack, the 49ers were missing their top running back in rookie Elijah Mitchell, who has a knee injury. Instead, they relied on Jeff Wilson Jr., who rushed 13 times for 56 yards. They also turned to star receiver Deebo Samuel, who missed last week with a groin injury.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan called plenty of plays using Samuel on the ground, and he finished the day with 8 carries, 37 yards, and an impressive 27-yard rushing touchdown.
Going into this game, it was clear the 49ers’ glaring defensive weakness was in their secondary, mainly at cornerback. The loss of top corner Emmanuel Moseley last week to an ankle injury meant having to rely on aging veteran Josh Norman, and rookies Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas. That’s not a group that bodes confidence against a Bengals receiving trio like Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd.
Still, the secondary managed, keeping the Bengals out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. Then, the cracks began to show, and Joe Burrow and the receiving core started to move the ball at will. Ambry Thomas got burned by Ja’Marr Chase for a touchdown, making Thomas’s inexperience glaringly obvious.
Thankfully the 49ers didn’t have to rely on their secondary much, because their defensive line played extremely well. The players up front led by edge rusher Nick Bosa got consistent pressure on Joe Burrow.
The defense overall sacked Burrow five times, two of those coming from Bosa, and one shared by defensive ends Samson Ebukam and Arden Key.
As for the 49ers linebacker core, it thrived in this game. Azeez Al-Shaair, the talented 24-year-old OLB, continues to make plays week in and week out. Al-Shaair led the team with 11 tackles and a sack before leaving in the third quarter with an elbow injury. With a proven player in Fred Warner and another budding star in Al-Shaair, the 49ers are stacked at linebacker.
Even with the impressive player performances, the 49ers could very well have been flying home to Santa Clara with a loss if it wasn’t for their game-changing plays on special teams. The unit recovered two muffed punt returns by the Bengals, leading to a field goal and touchdown on offense. It also kept the dangerous duo of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase off the field.
Robbie Gould did miss a 47-yard field goal that would have sealed the win, which was disappointing. However, he made his first two kicks from 33 and 24 yards, respectively.
Had the 49ers lost in overtime, they’d likely be looking at that missed field goal through a more critical lens. After all, if they’re looking to hold onto their playoffs hopes, a reliable kicker is a must.
Still, it’s good to see the 49ers special teams unit make plays and create scoring opportunities. They’ve struggled in recent weeks, but a strong showing in this game hopefully signals an upward trend.
The 49ers had a two-score lead at halftime, but late game difficulties made it closer than it should’ve been. Fans are going to disregard the mistakes because of the win, but head coach Kyle Shanahan will no doubt look to make improvements for next week.
Still, the 49ers came out on top, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. They’re 7-6, currently hold a wildcard playoff spot, and get to play at home next week. This wasn’t a must-win game for the 49ers playoff chances, but winning it brings them a little closer to punching their ticket to the postseason.
Next week, the 49ers face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, December 19th. The Falcons are desperate for a playoff spot and coming off a win, so they shouldn’t be overlooked. Luckily, the 49ers can use the much-needed momentum from today’s thriller and continue to build on it.
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