Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game will air nationally on CBS-TV. In the Bengals' home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst) and Evan Washburn (sideline reporter).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
Setting the scene: The Bengals hit the road this week to face the Denver Broncos, in a game that carries significant playoff implications. Cincinnati and Denver are among five AFC teams with a 7-6 record, but due to tiebreakers both currently sit just outside the playoff picture. The Bengals also will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak, after falling 26-23 in overtime to the San Francisco 49ers last week.
"It's a tough feeling, especially in December," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "I told the guys that's a really good football team, and one that very well could find themselves in the mix in their side of the conference. They've been there and done that, and we want to be there and do that too. We're going to be playing a lot of these types of games coming up."
The Bengals trailed 17-6 at halftime due to a wave of costly mistakes. In the first half alone, the Bengals muffed two punts — the 49ers recovered both and turned them into 10 points — had a 37-yard TD catch overturned by replay, and committed a taunting penalty after a third-down stop on defense that resulted in a first down for the 49ers, who scored a TD on the next play.
"We've just got to be smart," Taylor said. "We lost two possessions on those two fumbled punts, and I think we had a couple three-and-outs. And then we had the two possessions where we scored just six points. So we didn't score enough. The turnovers really have been what's hurt our consistency. We've been stressing to our guys that we've got to protect the football. And that's everyone, because everybody's been involved in that."
Cincinnati trailed 20-6 after three quarters, before the offense finally came to life. Led by QB Joe Burrow, who posted 161 passing yards, two TDs and a 151.0 passer rating in the fourth quarter, the Bengals staged a dramatic comeback and tied the game late.
Both of Burrow's TDs went to rookie WR Ja'Marr Chase, whose 10 receiving TDs this season are the most-ever by a Bengals rookie. The first TD came on a fourth-and-five from the 49ers' 17-yard line. Burrow scrambled left, and then right, and while on the move fired a pass behind Chase — anticipating that he would turn around — while Chase was moving in the opposite direction. Chase did indeed turn around, tip-toed along the end line and made the catch.
"That was one of my favorite touchdowns that we've thrown," Burrow said. "That was such a great play by him. Ja'Marr loves catching touchdowns and is great in the scramble drill. I started rolling out left and then reversed field, and he did a great job of adjusting to the to the ball in the air. That's one you really have to be on the same page almost immediately, and it worked."
Added Chase: "It was a scramble drill. I was running to the left — and while I was still running left, he threw it to the right. I wasn't sure why he did that, but then he said it was because of the way the defender would have to turn his hips in order to get to the ball. And I thought, 'That's kind of smart.' That was a really good play by him."
The second Burrow-to-Chase TD was a 32-yarder down the right sideline with just 1:25 remaining, and it knotted the game at 20.
"I had to make sure I sold the slant route," Chase said of the play. "We called that play early in the series, so this time I had to sell the slant. The guy played off. I thought they were going to be in 'quarters' coverage, but on both of the touchdowns they ended up not being in quarters. So I just took advantage of the defender, and I made the route."
The 49ers, though, had two time outs remaining and drove 50 yards in 10 plays to set up a potential game-winning FG from 47 yards. But K Robbie Gould's kick sailed wide right, and the game headed to Cincinnati's third OT contest of the season, which tied the 2013 Bengals for the most in team history.
The Bengals reached the 49ers' 26-yard line a little more than a minute into OT, thanks to a pair of 20-plus yard passes to WR Tee Higgins and TE C.J. Uzomah. Higgins had 114 receiving yards on the day, and enters this Sunday's game at Denver with three consecutive games over 100 receiving yards. But after two short runs by HB Joe Mixon, Burrow was sacked on third and three by his friend and former college teammate, 49ers DE Nick Bosa. Cincinnati was forced to settle for a FG.
Asked after the game if he should have stuck with Burrow and the passing game deep in 49ers territory, Taylor was transparent: "You know ... Yep. Yep. I agree with you. That's one that will keep you up at night. We have a quarterback that can win us a lot of games, and there's maybe one more pass instead of a run there. Sure, if we hit that run, I feel great about it. But we didn't. And so then you go back to hindsight, and I'm sure I'll feel a lot of that tonight."
San Francisco drove 75 yards in 12 plays on the ensuing possession, and capped it with a 12-yard TD pass to WR Brandon Aiyuk that secured the win.
Cincinnati played its final defensive drive in OT without three of its top defenders — DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Chidobe Awuzie and LB Logan Wilson.
The availability of those three players figures to be a critical factor this week at Denver, however their statuses are currently unknown. Hendrickson, the Bengals' leader in sacks (12.5) who earlier in the contest recorded a sack for the ninth consecutive game, left in the second quarter with a back injury. Awuzie, the Bengals' top corner, entered the game listed as questionable with a foot injury and played 58 snaps before ultimately coming out in the fourth quarter. And Wilson, the team leader in both tackles (90) and INTs (four), missed the game altogether with a shoulder injury he suffered on Dec. 5 against the Chargers.
"This is December," Taylor said. "We put ourselves in position for these games to mean something, and it's going to be this style of football the next four weeks — and definitely at Denver. We've got to be ready for it."
Take a walk down memory lane looking at some of the best images from the Bengals versus Broncos series.
The series: Denver leads the all-time series 22-10 overall and 13-3 as the home team.
Cincinnati won the last meeting at Denver, a 20-17 victory at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in 2017. That win snapped a 10-game Bengals losing streak in Denver, where they had not won since 1975. The Broncos won the last meeting at Paul Brown Stadium, 24-10 in 2018.
Bengals-Broncos connections: Broncos DL DeShawn Williams originally was college free agent signee of the Bengals in 2015, and was with Cincinnati through '16 ... Bengals CB Chidobe Awuzie and DT Josh Tupou both played at the University of Colorado ... Broncos RB Mike Boone played at the University of Cincinnati ... Bengals QB Brandon Allen was with the Broncos in 2019 ... Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater played at the University of Louisville ... Broncos OLB Aaron Patrick is from Dayton, Ohio) and played at Eastern Kentucky University ... Broncos OLB Jonathon Cooper, ILB Baron Browning and DE Dre'Mont Jones all played at Ohio State University; Cooper is from Gahanna, Ohio (Lincoln High School) ... Bengals LB Logan Wilson is from Casper, Wyo. and played at the University of Wyoming ... Broncos ILB Jonas Griffith is from Louisville, Ky. (The Academy at Shawnee) ... Bengals LB Austin Calitro (practice squad) was with the Broncos in 2020 ... Broncos ILB Avery Williamson (practice squad) played at the University of Kentucky ... Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was on the Broncos' coaching staff from 2010-15 ... Broncos defensive line coach Bill Kollar played for the Bengals from 1974-76 ... Bengals tight ends coach James Casey played for the Broncos in 2015 ... Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters coached at the University of Colorado from 2013-15 ... Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni coached at Bowling Green State University from 2001-06, and at the University of Kentucky in '11 ... Broncos assistant to head coach/defensive quality control coach Mike Hiestand coached at Miami (Ohio) University from 2012-13 ... Broncos special teams coordinator Tom McMahon coached at the University of Louisville in 2006 ... Broncos offensive quality control coach Justin Rascati coached at the University of Louisville from 2002-03.
Mixon's TD streak ends at nine: Bengals HB Joe Mixon this season put together a streak of nine consecutive games with at least one TD, which tied WR A.J. Green (nine in 2012) for the second-longest such streak in team history. Mixon's streak was broken when he was held out of the end zone on Dec. 12 vs. San Francisco, and he fell one short of the team record of 10, set between the 1994 and '95 seasons by WR Carl Pickens. Mixon scored 13 total TDs (11 rushing, two receiving) in his nine-game streak, which lasted between Game 4 vs. Jacksonville and Game 12 vs. the L.A. Chargers.
Within his nine-game streak were two other streaks that tied or set team records. He scored a rushing TD in six straight contests (Games 7-12), tied for the longest such streak in team history (RB Rudi Johnson/2006, and RB Stan Fritts/1975). And he scored multiple TDs in four straight games (Games 8-11), the longest such streak in team history.
The longest previous streak of consecutive games with multiple TDs was three, accomplished by Pete Johnson in 1981 and Rudi Johnson in 2005. The last NFL player with multiple TDs in at least four games was Saints RB Alvin Kamara, who had five straight between the 2019 and '20 seasons. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin in 2015 was the last player with multiple TDs in four straight games within one season.
For the season, Mixon has 12 rushing TDs and two receiving TDs. He could challenge RB Ickey Woods' team record for rushing TDs in a season (15 in 1988) or WR Carl Pickens' total TD record (17 in '95).
The rundown on Chase: Bengals rookie WR Ja'Marr Chase has lit up the record books so far in his young career. Here's a rundown of some of his accomplishments to this point in the season.
- Chase leads all rookies in receiving yardage (1035) and receiving TDs (10). Among all players, he is fifth in receiving yards and tied for third in receiving TDs.
- Chase's 1035 receiving yards are the 10th-most through a player's first 13 career games in league history.
- He is tied for fourth in the NFL in receptions of 40 yards or longer (six), and is tied for eighth in receptions of 20 yards or longer (15).
- He is the second rookie in NFL history to record at least 50 receiving yards in each of his first seven games. Detroit WR Earl McCullouch, who at one time was the world-record holder in the 110-meter hurdles, also did it in 1968. Chase's streak ended in Game 8 at the N.Y. Jets.
- He is one of two players in NFL history with a reception of at least 30 yards in each of their first seven career games. McCullough is the other. Chase's streak ended in Game 8 at the N.Y. Jets.
- His 201 receiving yards on Oct. 24 at Baltimore stand as the second-most among all players in a single game this season.
- In Game 7 at Baltimore, Chase (21 years, 237 days) became the second-youngest player ever to record at least 200 receiving yards in a single game (Mike Evans; 21 years, 87 days).
- In Game 1 vs. Minnesota, his NFL debut, he became the youngest (21 years, 195 days) Bengal ever to top 100 receiving yards.
Hendrickson's sack streak at nine: Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson has recorded a sack in each of the Bengals' last nine games, good for the longest active streak in the NFL, the longest ever by a Bengal, and tied for the fourth-longest in NFL history. The previous Bengals record was six straight, by LB Reggie Williams (1984) and DE Eddie Edwards ('83). Current Chiefs DT Chris Jones holds the NFL record at 11 straight games with a sack (accomplished in 2018). Hendrickson and Jones are the only NFL players with a streak of at least nine games within one season.
Hendrickson, though, left last Sunday's game vs. San Francisco with a back injury, and his status for this week's game at Denver is unknown. If he records a sack in the next game in which he plays, Hendrickson would tie for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
Hendrickson has 12.5 sacks this season (tied for fifth in the NFL), and has recorded a sack in 11 of Cincinnati's 13 contests.
Burrow surpasses 6K: Bengals QB Joe Burrow surpassed 6000 career passing yards in Game 13 vs. San Francisco this season, in what was just his 23rd career game. That made him the fastest Bengal ever to 6000 passing yards, ahead of QBs Carson Palmer (25 games), Andy Dalton (27) and Jeff Blake (27).
Burrow also was the fastest Bengal to 5000 passing yards (19 games), ahead of Blake, Dalton and Palmer (22 each). And he reached 4000 yards in just 16 games, the fastest in team history ahead of Blake and Palmer (18 each).
Bell rings of reliability: One of Cincinnati's most trusted leaders and consistent players on the field over the last two seasons has been S Vonn Bell. The sixth-year pro joined the Bengals as an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2020 season, and then proceeded to play in every snap of his first 20 games with the team. His streak of consecutive snaps was broken in Cincinnati's 34-11 win at Detroit on Oct. 17, when the starters were rested late in the fourth quarter.
And although he has missed a few more snaps since that game in Detroit, Bell still leads defense in snaps played (814 of 863) this season. In his now 29 career Bengals games, he has seen action on 1873 of 1922 possible defensive snaps (97.5 percent).
Bell has been a captain in both of his Bengals seasons. He ranks second on the team in tackles (81) this year, after leading the team in that category (114) last season.