It was another tale of two halves for the 49ers, who led their Week 14 outing against the Cincinnati Bengals for nearly the entirety of the contest prior to a fourth quarter comeback that forced San Francisco into its first overtime contest of the season.
San Francisco had its share of ups and downs but managed to rally in overtime to take the win on the road. The 49ers opened the day occupying the seventh seed in the NFC. With the Washington Football Team falling to the Dallas Cowboys in the earlier window of Sunday's slate, the 49ers moved to the sixth seed with an improved record of 7-6.
Here are a few takeaways from the game:
After a huge defensive stop on third down featuring a Nick Bosa sack that led to a Cincinnati field goal, the 49ers offense had one of their better drives of the game. Jimmy Garoppolo orchestrated a 7-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a pass to Brandon Aiyuk that was initially ruled out of bounds at the 1 yard line. However, after further review, the call was overturned for the game-winning touchdown.
Garoppolo was perfect on the overtime drive, completing all six of his throws for 77 yards, including the game-winning score.
The quarterback finished the day completing 27-of-41 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 103.3. Garoppolo became one of eight quarterbacks in franchise history to reach 10,000 passing yards (10,289), and accomplished the feat in just 43 games.
Offense Starts Hot, Cooler Finish
San Francisco couldn't get much going offensively until their third drive of the game. Jeff Wilson Jr. got the start at running back and saw two carries for nine and 12 yards, respectively, to move San Francisco into Bengals territory. Two plays later, Deebo Samuel took the handoff up the left sideline for a 27-yard touchdown. His ability to stay in bounds was reminiscent of George Kittle's 48-yard score a week prior.
Samuel's score marked his 11th touchdown of the season, the most by a 49ers player since Vernon Davis had 13 in 2013.
Tom Compton delivered two key blocks during that drive, including one that opened a lane on Samuel's score.
On the 49ers final drive of the second quarter, the 49ers caught a huge break on third down following a taunting penalty to give the offense a fresh set of downs. Following the flag, Garoppolo connected with Kittle on the ensuing play at the goal line for the score and to extend San Francisco's lead, 17-6.
The score marked Kittle's sixth touchdown catch of the season, a new career high for the tight end. He has registered a touchdown in each of his last six games since returning from Injured Reserve.
After putting up 17 points in the first half, San Francisco was limited to just three points for the remainder of regulation. Although the offense managed to play clean football, the unit failed to sustain drives.
Capitalizing Off Mistakes
Cincinnati had a mistake-ridden first half that included two crucial fumbles on special teams. The first came by way of a muffed punt by cornerback Darius Phillips that was recovered by wide receiver River Cracraft. The 49ers managed to score a field goal off of the turnover. The unit's second blunder came late in the first half, as the 49ers caught a massive break following a dropped deep pass inside the final two minutes of the second quarter. On a San Francisco punt, Bengals returner Stanley Morgan Jr. muffed the punt, which was recovered by Trent Sherfield. That turnover led to the aforementioned Kittle touchdown heading into the half.
The Bengals recorded four fumbles across Sunday's game, losing two of them on the day.
San Francisco suffered some costly mistakes of their own, the most notable being a missed walk-off field goal.
Rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas made his first-career start with Emmanuel Moseley (ankle) being placed on Injured Reserve and Dontae Johnson out due to a personal matter. Thomas was tested on multiple occasions giving up some chunk plays, including Cincinnati's first touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. He was also called for a hands to the face penalty that nullified a Jimmie Ward interception. In the second half, the same penalty erased what would have been Bosa's 15th sack of the season (more on Bosa next).
Defense Comes Up Clutch
For the majority of the contest, the 49ers managed to quiet Cincinnati's four-headed monster in Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon. It wasn't until the third quarter that both Higgins and Chase saw the bulk of their production when coming back from behind, including back-to-back touchdown drives from Joe Burrow to Chase.
Azeez Al-Shaair had a strong start to the game, notching a team-high 11 tackles, three for loss, a sack and a pass breakup in the first half alone. Al-Shaair left the game near the end of the third quarter with an elbow injury and did not return. Per Kyle Shanahan, the linebacker will undergo more imaging when the team returns to the SAP Performance Facility on Monday.
Bosa had several clutch moments in addition to his overtime sack. The pass rusher notched three tackles and two-total sacks on the day, bringing his season total to a career-high 14. Bosa has registered at least 1.0 sack in each of the 49ers last five games and is the first member of the 49ers to do so since linebacker Aldon Smith accomplished the feat in seven-straight games in 2012.
Samson Ebukam and Arden Key split a third down sack that led to a Cincinnati field goal. K'Waun Williams also recorded his first sack of the season and seventh of his career on a fourth quarter third-down blitz that forced a Cincinnati punt.
Higgins led Cincinnati's pass catchers with 114 yards on five receptions. Mixon was held to just 58 yards on 18 carries. The Bengals totaled 86 yards rushing, their lowest output since Week 9.
The People's Tight End
There's no better way to describe Kittle's outing against the Bengals than "clutch." Kittle came down with several crucial third down plays, including an out-stretched fingertip grab to set up the potential fourth quarter game-winning field goal.
He was responsible for three big plays during the 49ers overtime drive, hauling in passes for 8, 21 and 9 yards.
Kittle finished his day with 151 yards on 13 receptions (11.6 yards per reception) and a score. This performance is coming on the heels of his 181-yard outing against the Seattle Seahawks a week prior. He is also the only tight end in the modern era to post back-to-back games of at least 150 yards in the same season.
Kittle now has four-career 150-plus yard receiving games, which ties Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow for the second most by a tight end since the Super Bowl era began in 1966.
With 151 yards today, Kittle passed former 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree for 11th on the franchise's all-time receiving list.
"Kittle was huge," Shanahan said postgame. "He made some real big plays in that game, especially the way he went back on that last drive. I know there was a big third down in the second half I didn't get to see… It was just huge coming back to him on a number of big plays he made.
"Just how he was on that last drive was huge."
The 49ers are set to return to Levi's® Stadium in Week 15 to host the 6-7 Atlanta Falcons, who are in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.