Despite a wild rally from 14 points down with 9:20 left in regulation, the Bengals lost a chance to get into first place in the AFC North when they lost a 23-20 lead in overtime on a 75-yard drive capped by Jimmy Garoppolo's 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk with 1:53 left in overtime in a 26-23 heartbreaker.
But Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was never better on a day be bobbed and weaved from a 49ers pass rush that sacked him five times while he rung up a passer rating of 125.6 on 25 of 34 for 348 yards.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins logged his third straight 100-yard game (five catches for 114 yards) on the first play of overtime on a 26-yarder over the middle on which Burrow got hammered on his blind side as he threw. Then Burrow beat the blitz to hit tight end C.J. Uzomah for 23 more.
But on third-and three after two runs from the 19, Nick Bosa, chasing his Buckeye buddy all day from both end spots, got him for what appeared to be a coverage sack, his second of the day. Rookie Evan McPherson gave them their first lead of the day with 6:15 left in OT and 65 minutes into the game on a 41-yard field goal.
But they couldn't stop tight end George Kittle. The 6-4 Jauan Jennings stared the winning drive with a 25-yard jump ball on cornerback Mike Hilton. Kittle caught a 21-yarder over the middle and then killed them on a third-and-five nine-yarder over the middle with defenders draped on him from the Bengals 21 that gave him 13 catches for 151 yards. Don't forget Jimmy G. He made some big throws under duress from a Bengals pass rush that got him five times, too, on his way to 27 of 41 for 296 yards and 103.3 rating.
Burrow's two pin-point touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase in the fourth quarter brought the Bengals back from a 20-6 hole in the final 9:20 to force overtime.
But only when 49ers kicker Robbie Gould pushed what would have been the 47-yard winner at the gun right.
Burrow was absolutely brilliant down the stretch with people in his face, finishing regulation 23 of 32 for 299 yards for a glittering 128 passer rating. He made an unbelievable fourth-and-five throw for the Bengals' first touchdown of the game that cut the lead to 20-13 with 9:20 left in the game.
On the previous red-zone trip on third down, Burrow got sacked on a play forced by Bosa, who was in his grill all day, as were his rampaging teammates. And when McPherson missed a 46-yarder, the score was frozen at 20-6. The red zone was tough for the Bengals and decided the game with just one touchdown on five shots inside the 20.
But with double-digit sacker Trey Hendrickson in the locker room with a back problem , the Bengals still got some sacks. Tackle Larry Ogunjobi got one to get the ball back and that's how Burrow had a fourth-and-five from the 17. Burrow got immediately chased out of the pocket, he made the swarm miss, he reversed field, rolled right and as he was going out of bounds he threw a strike to Chase working the back line of the end zone.
But in the last 9:20, the Bengals couldn't protect Burrow. After tackle B.J. Hill got a third-sack to get the ball back for Burrow, he was facing a third-and-five. But cornerback K'Waun Williams took advantage of an empty backfield for a blitzing sack.
When Burrow got the ball back at his 15 with 2:40 left, the drive began with Bosa's sack, but he was just getting warmed up from his own five
Burrow converted a huge third-and-six to Higgins over the middle and with Burrow about to get the ball slapped out of his hand, he launched a 29-yard dime to slot receiver Tyler Boyd on the left sideline.
Then on the next snap, Chase's fourth-quarter redemption continued. His double move won the day at the goal line and Burrow lofted it right on the money for a 32-yard touchdown with 79 seconds left to tie it. It also gave Chase the Bengals rookie record with his 10th touchdown catch in a quarter he also went over 1,000 yards as he finished with five catches for 77 yards.
The last minute of the first half that had been so good to the Bengals this season was the scene of a fatal turnover of events that led to the 49ers' crushing 17-6 halftime lead.
In a span of 67 seconds:
- They lost their marvelous sack ace Hendrickson when he limped off the field with a back injury in the middle of what was his finest game as a Bengal.
- Then punt returner Darius Phillips muffed his second kick of the game at the Bengals 31.
- The Bengals defense, so good in the first half when they denied the 49ers on all six third-down tries, almost did it again when the Bengals put up a big Trey-less rush to force Garoppolo's third-and-seven incompletion.
- But when strong safety Vonn Bell scooped up the harmless ball, he pointed it at 49ers center Alex Mack ever so briefly and it was enough to draw a taunting penalty.
- That put the ball on the 14 and, you guessed it, on the next snap the Bengals appeared to lose Kittle in coverage and he made a Kittle-like play, making the catch at the goal line and then sweeping the ball against the pylon.
The defense came out brilliantly on their first three series and forced kicks after three downs. The third kick was a chip-shot field goal in the wake of Phillips' dropped punt that gave the 49ers the ball at the Bengals 23 and gave the Niners a 3-0 lead.
The Bengals came into this one having allowed only two touchdowns following turnovers and they did it again as Phillips went to the locker room with a shoulder injury on the scrum after his miss before coming back to drop another one.
The big play was Hendrickson drawing a hold on 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, coming into the game allowing just one sack. But Hendrickson bull-rushed him on third-and-four to wipe out a first-down completion.
Among those big, early plays were Hendrickson's sack in his NFL-best ninth straight game when he worked a stunt with rookie Cam Sample. Sample went outside on Williams and Hendrickson went inside for his 12.5 sack of the season. In his first NFL start linebacker Joe Bachie made a couple of big hits. And cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, back in the lineup after leaving last week with a foot injury making an interception late in the first half, defended Aiyuk on a successful third down.
He made an even bigger play with 67 seconds left in the half when he recovered after wide receiver Travis Benjamin beat him down the middle of the field on third-and-15. When Benjamin pulled in the catch, Awuzie stayed with it and knocked it out of his hands.
The offense struggled just holding on the ball, never mind moving the ball. For the first time since the second game of the season, they didn't get a touchdown in the first half, settling for two McPherson field goals while scrounging for just 128 yards.
On the first series, Chase dropped a first down. Burrow delivered a seed and Chase had his hands so awkwardly positioned that he looked like he knocked it down on his ninth drop and sixth in the last six games.
After not practicing all week, running back Joe Mixon fumbled his first carry of the day on a two-yard loss and got it back. So did Boyd when he fumbled on the next series.
And when the Bengals did get a drive going, Higgins false stared on third-and-seven from the Niners 25, Burrow had to check down on third-and-long and McPherson tied it at three with a 37-yarder.
Check out some of the best images from the Bengals vs. 49ers in Week 14 of the 2021 NFL season.
But the Chase dropped that really hurt came with about five minutes left in the half. Chase came into the game with no catch longer than 16 yards in November and December after torching the league in September and October.
But on first down from the Niners 37, Chase ran past cornerback Ambry Thomas and Burrow put it right over his shoulder, leading him ever so slightly. Chase appeared to have the touchdown, but it squirted out as he hit the ground and the touchdown was taken off the board on the review. He disputed the call after the game, saying both hands were under the ball.
Chase came back to make a 12-yard catch to get in the red zone, but the Bengals couldn't move it. Mixon got a yard, running back Samaje Perine got blown up on a screen for a four-yard loss and Burrow checked down again to get a fourth-and-two and the Bengals took the three points to make it 10-6.
The big throw to Chase was one of the rare times in the first three quarters Burrow took a shot deep. Coming into the game that was thought to be a big advantage because the 49ers were down to their back-up cornerbacks.
But San Francisco shut off the perimeter with a Cover 2 zone that the Bengals couldn't dent in the running game (Mixon had 34 yards on 14 carries in the first three quarters) and they couldn't make enough plays over the middle. In those first three quarters, Burrow had just 138 yards passing on 14 of 19 passing. And they got no touchdowns on their first three red-zone trips. Despite going against a shell defense, Mixon could gain just 58 yards on 18 carries in what may have doomed them more than Phillips' lost fumbles.
The defense only faltered once in the first half and it was the only time in the first two quarters the 49ers' vaunted running game got off the ground. They ran it five straight times and it was capped off by wide receiver Deebo Samuel's 27-yard run. But Samuel has no position. He lined up as running back and took a sweep around right end and rode home Kittle's block on left end Sam Hubbard for his sixth rushing touchdown of the season. The Bengals did what they wanted to do in holding the No, 7 run game to 100 yards on 23 carries. But they couldn't come up with more than 20 points in regulation to spoil a winnable defensive effort.