‘It’s going to be a challenge’ — Rugged 49ers a good barometer for Bengals

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow joked he wished the bye came a couple weeks earlier while his calf was still limiting him, but the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback said now he is feeling completely healthy.

The Bengals (3-3) need Burrow at his best Sunday when they play at San Francisco (5-2). The 49ers have the second-highest scoring offense in the league, and their defense allows just 15.6 points per game.

Cincinnati has done well coming out of its bye the past two seasons, collecting wins in the first game back, both in Week 11, and compiling a 12-3 record combined the rest of those seasons. The Bengals won their last seven games after the bye last season and had a 10-game winning streak going into the AFC Championship.

Burrow said the mental break felt too soon this time, and the physical break a bit late. Now it’s go-time, though.

“I felt pretty good after last week, health wise, so it was just an extra week to get healthy, feeling good, feeling 100 percent,” Burrow said.

Meanwhile, San Francisco has some concerns at quarterback with Brock Purdy reporting concussion symptoms on the plane back from Minneapolis on Monday, following a second-straight loss. He’s now in concussion protocol, and the 49ers are preparing Sam Darnold to start Sunday.

Cincinnati’s injury report Wednesday was pretty clean. Linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither remained out of practice with his knee injury, and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was a limited participant coming back from a groin injury. Those were the only two active players who weren’t full participants.

Burrow is doing what he called “maintenance” work to strengthen and rehab the calf he strained July 27 and re-aggravated in Week 2; however, he mainly just “sat on the couch, ate, watched football, lifted,” during the six days the players had off from practices.

Burrow said he was a little more “locked in on football” this bye week than others because he didn’t need that mental time off yet. He said he spent time watching other teams across the league, as well as self-scouting and thinking about his own mechanics and other things he can improve.

Asked what he most wants to do better over the final 11 games, Burrow said “just about everything.”

The Bengals are feeling a great sense of urgency coming out of the bye, especially on offense, as they try to get above .500 for the first time this season. Cincinnati is among the bottom five in points scored and have the fewest net yards of offense this season.

A good showing against San Francisco would be a good sign.

“They are really good,” Burrow said. “Their front is one of the best in the league. They play hard, they play fast, it’s going to be a challenge.”

Burrow will be facing close friend Nick Bosa, the former Ohio State defensive end that was made the highest-paid defender in the league with his contract extension in September. The two have still been texting this week but haven’t had any trash talk yet.

As Burrow recalled, he played one of his best games against the 49ers in 2021, though it ended in a 26-23 overtime loss in Cincinnati. That was the last defeat for Burrow and the starters before the Super Bowl that year. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns, both to Ja’Marr Chase in the fourth quarter to bring the Bengals back from a 20-6 deficit and send the game to overtime.

“I would say that’s one of the better games that I’ve played in my career,” Burrow said. “I had a lot of confidence after that game. I had a lot of confidence before that game, too. Every game that you play really well, you gain more confidence. You learn from every game. It’s tough to say that you just pick one game and say that was the turning point. But definitely learned a lot from that one.”

Burrow said the 49ers have a similar scheme and style as that team two years ago, but it’s tough to take much from that particular game.

There’s been a little more hype around this matchup with both teams considered Super Bowl contenders coming into this season.

“It’s exciting,” Burrow said. “We know it’s gonna be a challenge. We relish going on the road and playing those kinds of environments. It’ll be a big challenge. We’ll find out a lot of ourselves on Sunday.

“I think we just got to go out and play well, we got to focus on getting the win,” he added. “Like I said, we let the narratives and the headlines to do what they’re going to do. We’re focused about what we need to do to get a win this Sunday.”


Bengals at 49ers, 4:25 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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