If you’re unsure what to think about the Cincinnati Bengals, you aren’t alone.
So many aspects of this team is confusing and inconsistent. Their latest game against the San Francisco 49ers had them limping towards the finish line only to end up as the likely winner and blowing it in the end. It’s tough to come away feeling positive about how it all went down, but the young players certainly did what they could to win the game.
Despite the outcome, we welcome back a familiar name to top section.
There’s an image of Ja’Marr Chase about to catch his first touchdown pass in three weeks. The view is from behind the end zone, and it captures Chase tip-toeing the white paint with his palms facing the ball. The cynical observer can view that picture and imagine Chase dropping the ball, because that’s been the recent theme for the Bengals’ receiver.
It reared its ugly head on the first drive of the game. Joe Burrow identified an open Chase digging across the middle against a Cover 4 look and the rookie let it bounce off his outward hands incomplete. The critics reloaded with their slander, and Chase didn’t see another real target for another quarter.
Head coach Zac Taylor dialed up four verticals from the 49ers’ 42 yard-line and got Chase with a one-on-one down the right sideline. A near-perfect Burrow throw gave Chase a chance to go full extension at the goal-line to reel in the ball, and he nearly did before the ball barely hit the ground and moved in his hands, overturning what would’ve been an impressive touchdown.
Two drops for Chase did not prepare us to see his first catch bounce off the hands of a 49ers’ defender just two plays later. But perhaps that’s a representation of the Ja’Marr Chase rookie experience; the scales tend to swing in both directions very violently.
Chase caught one more pass before the fourth quarter, and then he and Burrow turned it on.
It was a broken play, which is not the ideal situation on fourth-and-five down by two touchdowns. The 49ers’ ended up with four defenders in the end zone that was 17-yards away by the time Burrow spun around and scrambled to his right. Chase saw his quarterback gearing up to throw and shifted towards the middle of the end zone where no defender was, but Burrow threw to where Chase started, putting the closest defender in a bind and causing Chase to turn back. The ball ended up at Chase’s knees about a foot away from his body.
For a receiver with nine drops to his name on the year, it wasn’t a sure thing he’d catch it. He did.
As mentioned at the top of the article, Chase not only secured his first touchdown in three games, but his first at home since Week 5. And he was not done.
The Bengals needed another score to tie the game and send it to overtime. Thanks to a couple of stops by the defense, they got that chance with under three minutes play. Burrow ended up finishing a seven-play drive with his 10th touchdown toss to Chase on the year. Chase executed a clean sluggo route from 32-yards out and ran under another perfectly thrown ball from Burrow, toasting the opposing cornerback in the process.
Chase’s over-the-shoulder grab was his fifth catch of the game and got him to 77 receiving yards. Combined with the two scores, it was his most productive outing since his popping off against the Baltimore Ravens back in Week 7. A perfect game? Not exactly, but in the thick of the playoff race, Chase provided proof that his early-season dominance was not a flash in the pan. The 49ers’ cornerback group is not at its full strength, so he took advantage of an opportune matchup. That’s what legitimate receivers do.
There are four weeks left to go, but now seems like a good time to bring this up. In a way, everyone was kind of right about Chase this year. His skillset as a vertical threat has indeed been exactly what the Bengals needed, and his chemistry with Burrow has translated seamlessly. But some of the concerns have also been validated. The drops from the preseason have not been a fluke, and his presence hasn’t always made the offense more efficient.
In a surprising turn of events, Chase has been neither a Hall of Fame candidate, nor a total bust. Reality has inserted him somewhere in the middle, with his impact being more positive than negative. Imagine that.
Cam Sample has already been a beneficiary of injuries this year. He was slated to play a good amount of snaps Sunday with Khalid Kareem unable to play, so Trey Hendrickson’s back spasms only accelerated Sample’s involvement at defensive end. He played a season-high 43 snaps and was involved in numerous plays. His most impactful one should’ve been a third-down pressure that forced a 49ers’ field goal, but Vonn Bell’s taunting penalty erased that from existence.
Sample was credited with three defensive stops and two pressures as well as getting in on a D.J. Reader sack late in the fourth quarter.
Hendrickson’s status for next week is up in the air, but there’s optimism he can practice. Regardless, Sample has been playing well lately and can expect to see similar snaps in the coming weeks.
It took two months, but Evan McPherson finally missed a field goal again. In a game that went to overtime, a 46-yard field goal sent wide left is a big moment. McPherson’s late third quarter boot towards the south goal posts never seemed to have a chance. 16 minutes of game time later, 49ers’ kicker Robbie Gould missed a potential game-winning kick at almost exactly the same spot on the field as he pushed it right. That side of the field always seems to get kickers when it matters.
But it wasn’t a terrible day at the office for the rookie. He made three other kicks, including a go-ahead 41-yarder in the same goal posts he missed earlier, as well as all of his extra point attempts. Bouncing back has not been an issue for McPherson thus far.
The running game tried a different approach, which included no opportunities for Jackson Carman to see the field. Carman had been used in jumbo sets when Isaiah Prince has been at right tackle, but with the score out of the Bengals’ control late in the game, going heavy personnel wasn’t really an option. He and Trey Hill were limited to field goal blocking again.
Did Not Play
- Chris Evans (ankle)
- Tyler Shelvin (illness)