ANALYSIS: 5 takeaways from Bengals’ mistake-filled loss to 49ers

The Cincinnati Bengals rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit with two Joe Burrow touchdown passes to Ja’Marr Chase to send the game to overtime, but the San Francisco 49ers finished what they started and one-upped them in the extra period.

After Evan McPherson nailed a 41-yard field goal on the opening drive of overtime, San Francisco answered with a touchdown to beat the Bengals 26-23 on Sunday in front of 50,481 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Brandon Aiyuk on a short pass, and he dashed down the sideline and dove toward the pylon as Jessie Bates tried to push him out of bounds. After an instant replay review, Aiyuk was awarded the touchdown on the 11-yard reception.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. Special teams mistakes costly

The Bengals were down 20-6 in large part because of special teams struggles through the first three quarters.

Darius Phillips muffed two punts that the 49ers recovered for a short field, and the 49ers got 10 points out of those turnovers. He and Stanley Morgan put the ball on the ground two more times before the Bengals turned to Tyler Boyd for those duties. Evan McPherson also missed a 46-yard field goal attempt well wide to the left in the third quarter, which also could have made a difference in the end result.

Phillips posted an apology on Twitter taking responsibility for his part in the loss, but cornerback Mike Hilton said after the game he told Phillips not to lose confidence.

“In my opinion, it’s one of the hardest jobs to be a punt returner,” Hilton said. “You’ve got guys screaming down on you and your number one job is to catch the ball. He didn’t, but we’re not losing confidence in him. We know if gets the ball in his hands in space he’ll make plays for us.”

2. Slow start on offense

Once again, the Bengals got off to a slow start offensively. Chase had a third-down drop on the first drive, Burrow was sacked on another third down in the first quarter.

Chase thought he had a 37-yard touchdown in the second quarter when he made a diving catch in the end zone, but the review showed he didn’t have control of the ball when he hit the ground. Cincinnati settled for a field goal that drive instead, McPherson’s second of the game. The Bengals went into halftime down 17-6.

Trailing 20-6 in the fourth quarter, Burrow connected with Chase on a 17-yard pass with 9:20 left and a 32-yard pass to tie the game with 1:19 remaining. Chase finished with 77 yards on five catches, and Tee Higgins had a third straight game over 100 yards receiving with 114 yards on five catches. Burrow, still playing with an injured pinky, finished with 348 yards passing and two touchdowns with no interceptions, though a penalty negated one and another near one was tipped into Chase’s hands.

The Bengals finished with just 86 yards rushing, including 58 from Mixon.

“They were playing two-high the whole game,” Burrow said. “Teams are daring us to run the ball lately — one high on one snap the whole game, and we threw it over their head for what was close to a touchdown. They had a good play; they did. They were able to maintain their two-high shells and put a guy in the box to defend the run. And in that second half, we began to figure it out a little bit and were able to throw the ball all second half. We weren’t able to pull it out.”

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

3. Defense kept Bengals in the game

Cincinnati struggled to contain tight end George Kittle, who caught 13 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, but the defense played solid enough to keep the team in the game despite the turnover problems.

The Bengals sacked Garoppolo five times, including four in the second half after Trey Hendrickson exited the game with a back injury shortly before halftime. Hendrickson sacked Garoppolo on the third down the first drive of the game to force a three-and-out, marking his ninth straight game with a sack. B.J. Hill, Larry Ogunjobi and D.J. Reader also had sacks.

After Phillips’ first muffed punt, Cincinnati managed to limit the damage to a field goal, despite the 49ers starting at the 23-yard line. Chidobe Awuzie had a big third-down pass breakup and made some other big plays coming back from a foot injury that limited him in practice this week.

“I think we got some good stops but obviously not enough to win the game,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “That drive at the end, you’ve got to stop them there and we didn’t. I’m proud of (and) I love the guys on my team. We went out there and battled. I don’t even know what we were down at one point, but we just kept getting stops and kept climbing back into it.”

4. Losing in overtime

The Bengals got the ball first in overtime and made it as far as the San Francisco 19-yard line. But after getting to the 26, they ran twice and Burrow was sacked on third down. Taylor said he wishes he would have stayed with the hot hand and called a pass on first down. McPherson made his 41-yard field goal, but it wasn’t enough.

“That’s one that will keep you up at night,” Taylor said. “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 down to win it on Aiyuk’s touchdown. On third down, just before the winning play, the Bengals gave up a 9-yard pass to Kittle for the conversion.

“They made some amazing plays,” Hubbard said. “George Kittle with some big catches. I was really disappointed. We felt like we were going to win that game. We had the momentum shifted, kept getting stops. But it’s a playoff game, basically. That team has been to the Super Bowl. I think games going forward are going to be that intense. We gotta find a way to win.”

5. Missed opportunities all around

The Bengals also had an opportunity to go into halftime with a closer score, but after Vonn Bell broke up a pass on third down, he was called for taunting. The penalty gave the 49ers a first down, and Kittle caught his 14-yard touchdown for a 17-6 lead on the next play.

McPherson’s missed field goal in the third quarter and Chase’s catch that was overturned as incomplete also left points off the board.

Overall, the Bengals (7-6) missed a big opportunity to climb in the AFC North, as the Ravens (8-5) lost to the Browns (7-6) earlier on Sunday. Now the Bengals need to bounce back on the road next week at Denver to make up some ground in the playoff push.

“We’ve got to fix the things we can fix and be able to quickly put it behind us, because we only have four games left, and the next one is a huge one in Denver,” Taylor said. “They’re in a very similar spot that we are, and it’s going to be the same style of football game — there’s no doubt about that. So we’ve got to find a way to go win that one.”

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