The Bengals (4-3) have now won three straight games, and they are 3-0 the week after a bye the past three seasons. San Francisco (5-3) now has lost three straight.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Is the offense back?
Joe Burrow’s mobility was on display even more Sunday, as the bye week allowed him a chance get to 100 precent health. The Bengals were able to find some success running plays from under center, and the result was a more balanced offense.
The passing game was especially exceptional compared to where it has been in other games this season. Burrow completed 28 of 32 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Ja’Marr Chase finished with 100 yards receiving and one touchdown on 10 catches, and Tee Higgins added 69 yards on five catches, including a couple big first-down conversions. Higgins was on the receiving end of one play in the first half when Burrow was almost sacked twice on the play but managed to get out of it and make the pass.
Cincinnati finished with 400 yards of offense, its best production of the season, topping the 380 yards of offense the Bengals had in a 34-20 win at Arizona in Week 5. They could have made it their highest scoring game of the season had Irv Smith not fumbled in the redzone at the end of the first half.
2. Getting the run game going
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan had said going under center some would help open up the running game because of the added dimension of unpredictability that would bring to the offense. That proved to be the case Sunday as the Bengals ran 27 times for 134 yards.
They had not topped 100 yards rushing as a team all season.
Joe Mixon finished with 16 carries for 87 yards and also had a key fourth-quarter touchdown run, which marked just the second rushing touchdown of the season for Cincinnati. San Francisco had just cut a 14-point deficit in half on the previous drive and Mixon’s touchdown pretty much sealed the win with about three minutes left.
Burrow added 43 yards on six carries, showing he’s regained the ability to scramble.
The Bengals did struggle with on running play. The end around for Ja’Marr Chase resulted in him having two negative carries.
3. Winning the turnover battle
The Bengals played a complete game Sunday, as the defense just keeps making plays.
After coming up with big redzone stops and turnovers in the Week 6 game against Seattle, Cincinnati did it again Sunday, including interceptions by Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson and a strip sack fumble caused by Trey Hendrickson and recovered by BJ Hill.
Pratt’s interception at the Cincinnati 5-yard line proved to be a pivotal play in the game. The Bengals had extended a 14-10 halftime lead by three points on Evan McPherson’s 56-yard field goal the first drive of the second half, but San Francisco had a chance to tie the game up at the end of the third quarter when Pratt stepped in front of Brock Purdy’s pass attempt and picked it off.
The Bengals ended up punting after that possession, but Wilson then intercepted Purdy’s very next pass and that set up Chase’s touchdown reception on the next play to make it a 24-10 advantage.
4. Best linebacker tandem?
Much talk this week centered on how good the 49ers’ linebackers were, particularly Fred Warner, but Pratt and Wilson did their best to steal the show. They’ve become one of the best linebacker tandems in the league.
Wilson finished with a game-high 11 tackles to go along with his interception and two passes defended. Pratt had five tackles, the redzone interception and a pass defended. Their big plays were key as the 49ers still managed 460 yards of offense but reached the end zone. Tight end George Kittle led with 149 yards on nine catches.
Warner had 10 tackles, a quarterback hit, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Nick Bosa, the former Ohio State defensive end who is the league’s highest paid defensive player, also draws a lot of attention but finished with just a half sack and two quarterback hits.
5. Big win in AFC North
The Bengals not only move about .500 for the first time this season with the win Sunday but they also help themselves in the AFC North standings, as they are now in line with the Cleveland Browns (4-3) and Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3), who both dropped losses Sunday.
Baltimore remains in the lead after moving to 6-2 with a win over Arizona.
Cincinnati has played its best football after the bye the past two years, including 7-0 to finish the regular season in 2022 and 5-3 after the bye in 2021 en route to the Super Bowl. The Bengals are hoping to keep that trend going.
Bills at Bengals, 8:20 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7