It had the feel of a playoff game, and that’s exactly how the Bengals performed, pulling off the 31-17 win for one of the biggest victories of the Zac Taylor era.
The game started about as great for the Bengals as possible. The defense forced a three-and-out on the 49ers opening drive. Then Joe Burrow led a beautiful drive down the field. It was highlighted by the most “he is back moment” that Burrow could have had. Words don’t even do it justice. The way he avoids multiple sacks is something Cincinnati has just been missing.
I think the questions have been answered. Joe's back. pic.twitter.com/TELEUU5lGH— Jungle Rat (@JungleRat55) October 29, 2023
The drive was highlighted by a Burrow dime on a fade to Tyler Boyd that fell in right over the defensive back. It was Burrow’s 100th career total touchdown (90 passing and 10 rushing).
The 49ers didn’t take much time to answer. Brock Purdy looked more like himself on the second drive. He was able to rush for a first down and then the next play buy time to hit Brandon Aiyuk for a huge play after Cam Taylor-Britt fell down on the play. Running back Christian McCaffrey finished off the drive by rushing for a touchdown from a few yards out. It was his 17th straight game with a touchdown, which ties an NFL record.
Burrow wasn’t to be outdone. Mixon took a screen most of the way after Trayveon Williams set the team up with great field position on a kickoff return. Burrow punctuated the drive by hitting rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas for his second touchdown of the year. This came off a free play where the 49ers defensive lineman jumped. It put the Bengals up 14-7.
The Bengals and 49ers traded stalled drives. Cincinnati’s drive did end with a sack that made Evan McPherson’s attempt a 50-yarder. The kick ended up wide right. It was noted by reporters that kickers were struggling with the wind pregame.
San Francisco had quite a drive going, with Purdy and Aiyuk connecting again for another 20-yard play. However, a hold derailed them in the red zone, and they settled for a field goal to make it 14-10 with just over two minutes to go in the half.
Cincinnati had a perfect two-two minute drill going. Burrow was hitting Higgins and Chase, and the running game was picking up huge chunks of yard. However, a fumble from tight end Irv Smith ended the drive around the four-yard line.
San Francisco almost was able to turn that turnover into a field goal, but time ran out before they could spike the ball after a McCaffrey draw to get them in range. The score at halftime remained 14-10 with the Bengals leading, but the 49ers have to feel fortunate it isn’t much worse than that.
The Bengals started off the second half with a field goal drive. Burrow had a 20-yard scramble to help set it up. McPherson redeemed himself with a 56-yard field goal. It is the second-longest ever made in Santa Clara.
A few drives stalled out before the 49ers were knocking on the door with a goal-to-go situation. It looked like they were going to tie the game up after effortlessly moving down the field on the drive with plenty of play-action passes that had receivers wide open.
However, it was linebacker Germaine Pratt made one heck of a play. He was pursuing Purdy on a broken play when Purdy attempted to get it over Pratt to an open running back. Pratt managed to somehow get a hand on it and deflect it to himself for an interception taking points off the board and evening the score for the Smith fumble.
Cincinnati’s offense hit a big play to Tee Higgins for 33 yards but failed to turn the turnover into points. It didn’t take long for them to get another chance as the first play the 49ers had, Purdy tossed an interception to linebacker Logan Wilson. The run back set the offense up in the red zone, and a fake wide receiver screen had Ja’Marr Chase wide open in the end zone to finally extend the lead to 14 points with just over 12 minutes in the game.
The 49ers did manage to get a touchdown to make it a seven-point game. Burrow and the offense answered the call. Burrow was able to hit Chase for another 20-yard play, Burrow had a big scramble for a first down. The drive ended with Joe Mixon bouncing a run on the goal line outside to get the lead back up to 14 points with around three minutes left in the game.
San Francisco had to make a miracle happen at the end of the game down two scores. Purdy threw an interception that was called back with a questionable roughing the passer call, but it was quickly corrected with Trey Hendrickson getting a strip sack recovered by B.J. Hill to really take any possibility away from the 49ers.
The win gets the Bengals over .500 for the first time this season. A very important win beyond standings, though. When this team was 1-3, there was doubt if they could do what they did last season and make the playoffs after a terrible start. It was especially bleak with an injured Burrow.
Now they beat one of the best teams in the NFC in their own house pretty handily. The defense had three turnovers on the day. Things are looking bright even as the toughest part of their schedule approaches. They are once again that team that can stand up against anyone and have a realistic chance of winning. It may just be a matter of when this ball stops rolling.