Bengals rally to force OT, but fall to 49ers

The return game has been a weak point for the Cincinnati Bengals all season, but poor special teams play all-around played a key factor in Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

A pair of muffed punts led to points for the opponent and a missed field goal left points off the board for the offense, as the Bengals, despite a fourth-quarter comeback, fell 26-23 in overtime on Sunday in front of 50,481 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

Cincinnati scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game. San Francisco’s Robbie Gould missed a 47-yard field goal at the gun that could have won the game, but the 49ers got it done in the extra period. After Evan McPherson made a 41-yard field goal to open overtime, the 49ers answered with a touchdown to win it.

The Bengals fall to 7-6 and missed a chance to move into first place in the AFC North after the Browns (7-6) beat the Ravens (8-5) earlier Sunday.

Cincinnati relied on its defense to keep it in the game early while the offense and special teams struggled, but following some adjustments in the second half, the other two phases finally came around. Ja’Marr Chase scored the Bengals first touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Joe Burrow with 9:20 left to make it a one-score game the drive after Evan McPherson missed a 46-yard field goal wide left, and the Burrow-Chase deep ball hit for the game-tying score with 1:19 left.

The Bengals just haven’t been able to get off to the fast starts they seek and continue talking about throughout the week. Otherwise, the result might have been different.

Two muffed punts by returner Darius Phillips resulted in 10 points for the 49ers in the first half, but between Phillips and Stanley Morgan, the Bengals put the ball on the ground four times on returns. Chase also had a bad drop on third down of Cincinnati’s first drive and the offense couldn’t get a rhythm.

Last week in a loss to the Chargers, it was four turnovers by the offense, including two in the first quarter, that caused problems.

San Francisco didn’t have much going early, either, thanks to the Bengals defense making plays. Trey Hendrickson sacked Garoppolo on third down to open the game with a three-and-out. Chidobe Awuzie broke up a pass on third down the next drive to force another punt, but Phillips muffed that one, and the 49ers recovered to set up a the 23-yard line.

The Bengals defense once again came up big to limit the 49ers to a 33-yard field goal for the first points with 6:37 left in the first quarter. Cincinnati answered with a field goal of its own; however, San Francisco got Deebo Samuel to the edge for a 27-yard touchdown run on its next drive to regain the lead with 12:05 left in the half.

Cincinnati had a touchdown overturned on review when Chase made a diving catch in the end zone to grab a 37-yard pass from Joe Burrow, and the Bengals ended up settling for another McPherson field goal to make it 10-6. The rookie Chase didn’t have control of the ball as he hit the ground on his touchdown catch, and the play was ruled an incomplete pass.

After Phillips’ second muffed punt, Garoppolo found George Kittle on a 14-yard pass to extend the lead to 17-6 going into halftime.

The Bengals lost Trey Hendrickson to a back injury late in the second quarter, and he was declared out, but the pass rush still managed to impact Garoppolo, who was sacked five times, including a timely third-down sack by B.J. Hill in the fourth quarter.

Cincinnati turned to Tyler Boyd in the return game in the second half, and he cleanly fielded two punts. Burrow didn’t give up on Chase and the two combined for the two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game. Tee Higgins had five catches for 114 yards.

The Bengals had just 2:40 left in regulation to try to tie the game, while trailing 20-13.

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