SANTA CLARA, Calif. _ Two franchises that played against each other in two Super Bowl classics offered up a mid-season dream here at Levi's Stadium as the Bengals rode Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow's Montana-like performance to their third straight victory with a 31-17 win over NFC power San Francisco
Burrow sifted a 49ers defense ranked No. 1 in a couple of categories for a career-high completion percentage of 87.5 on 28 of 32 for 283 yards and touchdown passes to three different receivers.
Running back Joe Mixon fittingly sealed it when he danced in the end zone at the end of a five-yard touchdown run with 2:54 left as the product of nearby Oakley, Calif., capped off a season-high 87 yards on 16 carries.
Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase had his third 100-day of the season with 100 on 10 catches, Burrow rambled for 43 yards, and Pro Bowl right end Trey Hendrickson, gutting out an ankle injury he received in the second quarter, ended it with a sack strip.
The Bengals linebackers, lost in the din of the national acclaim for the 49ers' brilliant tandem, made quite a stand on the home field of Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw when Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt picked off 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy on two straight throws late in the second half. Though Purdy finished with 365 passing yards, a chunk of it came in the closing seconds. By then, Cincinnati had made the timely defensive plays to stifle Purdy in his first home loss in nine career NFL starts.
The second interception came with the Bengals leading, 17-10, early in the fourth quarter when Purdy tried to go over the middle to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. But waiting was Wilson with his 10th career interception, the most of any NFL linebacker in the 2020s.
And on the next play, Burrow made it hurt when he lofted a 17-yard beauty over Chase's shoulder for 24-10 lead on a play Chase capped with a backward flip as the clock ticked to 13 minutes left.
Burrow's longest run of the season, a 20-yard Gumby Saturday Night Live special up the middle on the first series of the second half, set up Evan McPherson's 56-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 17-10 lead.
The Bengals' red-zone defense then came up gold again on one of the last plays of the third quarter with the 49ers facing a first down from the Bengals 8. For the sixth time this season, the Bengals allowed no points on a series inside the 20. With Purdy scrambling to his right sideline, he tried to dump it to running back Elijah Mitchell. But Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt tipped it with one hand to corral it before he went out of bounds.
After hugging 49ers Hall-of-Famer Joe Montana in pregame, Burrow went out and looked a lot like him as he staked the Bengals to a 14-10 halftime lead. He hit 21 of 23 for 170 yards and two touchdowns, including his last 19 for the longest skein of his career. He sliced and diced the 49ers on quick, intermediate stuff in the middle of the field and it should have been so much more.
Burrow got the ball back with 2:54 left in the half and when he got a first down on a flip to Mixon, the Bengals had a first down on the 49ers with 30 seconds left. But after Burrow hit tight end Irv Smith on a screen at the 5, Smith fumbled the ball away, wiping away a dominant 236-yard half.
On the first series they went under center four times out of ten plays, almost what they had done all season. And they were under for a fifth, but edge Nick Bosa was caught in the neutral zone. One of those snaps turned into Chase's 15-yard catch over the middle and they got the touchdown when Burrow feathered a seven-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd running as a fade past nickel back Isaiah Oliver less than five minutes into the game.
But the play of the drive found Burrow at his Casper The Ghost best as he wriggled out of maybe three sacks on third-and-ten. He fooled everyone on the last one with everyone thinking Arik Armstead had sacked him. Instead re-appeared just in time to find wide receiver Tee Higgins for the first down with a sideline throw just as All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner blew up Burrow..
Burrow was seven of nine for 60 yards and the only run in the drive was Mixon's 20-yard run between center Ted Karras and left guard Cordell Volson and he got ten of them after he made All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga miss. Mixon racked up 55 yards on seven carries in the half.
The Bengals did it again on the next series with more than 50 yards on first down after running back Trayveon Williams ripped off their longest kick return of the year for 41 yards. They got two first downs on the first three snaps, all under center, and when they went shotgun Burrow found Boyd wide open over the middle for 22 yards.
When they scored to go up 14-7, it almost looked like a replay of rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas' first NFL touchdown two weeks ago. With two flags thrown, Burrow acted like he had a free play and shuffled to his right with the ball down and waited for what seemed to be five seconds as he waited for Iosivas to emerge from a hand fight with cornerback Charvarius Ward in the right corner to drill a two-yard touchdown
That made Burrow 10 of 12 for 95 yards with the key 106 yards on first down on those first two drives. And he kept the next series alive with his legs when on third-and-and-nine he checked into a quarterback draw and made Oliver miss in the box to get what he needed for the first down.
Armstead finally got him a few plays later for the 49ers' only sack of the half, a third-down play which pushed Evan McPherson's 43-yard field goal try to 50 against a pretty good wind. It had the distance, but it went wide to snap his skein of eight straight.
The Bengals defense had a great first series, stopping fullback Kyle Juszczyk on third-and-one with nose tackle DJ Reader leading a line charge finished off by cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt's tackle.
But they let Purdy off the hook on the next series. On third-and-long, he couldn't find a receiver and scrambled for 15 yards leaking untouched to his left. Then as he was getting chased out of the pocket to his left he found wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk open for 31 yards.
McCaffrey then tied the NFL record with a touchdown in his 17th straight game on a two-yard run to tie the game.
But other than a field goal, that's all the Bengals allowed in the first half in a superb effort against the potent 49ers. Purdy had just 114 yards, 34 of them in the last desperate series, and they held McCaffrey to 31 yards on six carries.
Pro Bowl right end Trey Hendrickson came off in the second quarter with an injured ankle, but came back before the end of the half.