Brandon Aiyuk scored the winning touchdown reception in overtime as the San Francisco 49ers rallied to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-23 in one of the most thrilling games of the season. Aiyuk collected a 12-yard pass from Jimmy Garoppolo and then leapfrogged into the end zone for the winning score, putting the 49ers one game up for the final playoff spot in the NFC.
Garoppolo and George Kittle came alive in the second half, as Kittle hauled in a 19-yard catch on third-and-10 from the Bengals 38 to put the 49ers in field goal range for the win. Robbie Gould missed the 48-yard kick that led to overtime, but Kittle made sure his kicker was off the hook.
Kittle hauled in a third-and-5 catch for nine yards deep in 49ers territory to extend the drive and avoid Gould having to attempt a game-tying field goal in overtime. Aiyuk scored the winning touchdown on the next play.
The Bengals took their first lead of the game on their first possession in overtime, a 41-yard field goal by Evan McPherson to make it 23-20. Burrow was sacked by Nick Bosa on third-and-3 from the 19-yard line to force Cincinnati to kick and give San Francisco an opportunity to win the game.
Cincinnati equaled San Francisco on a tremendous drive orchestrated by Burrow, who found Ja’Marr Chase for a 32-yard touchdown pass with 1:19 left to knot the game at 20-20. Burrow went 4 of 6 for 85 yards and the touchdown to Chase on the drive. He found Chase earlier in the fourth quarter on a 17-yard touchdown to cut San Francisco’s lead to 20-13.
Burrow finished 25 of 34 for 348 yards and two touchdowns (125.6 rating) and Chase hauled in five catches for 7 yards and two scores. Tee Higgins led the Bengals with 114 receiving yards.
The Bengals had an opportunity to take over first place in the AFC North, but now they are on the outside looking in regarding the wild-card race. Cincinnati trails the Indianapolis Colts in the playoff standings as the Colts hold the conference record tiebreaker.
Here are some other takeaways from an interconference thriller:
Why the 49ers won
George Kittle played a major role in the 49ers getting back over the .500 mark and in control of their playoff destiny. Kittle made two huge catches on third down in the final minute of the fourth quarter and in overtime to give San Francisco an opportunity at victory. Kittle had a 19-yard catch on third-and-10 from the Bengals’ 38-yard line that put San Francisco in position to win the game on a walk-off field goal (that Robbie Gould missed), but gave San Francisco another opportunity.
His nine-yard catch in overtime on third-and-5 allowed the 49ers to avoid kicking a field goal to match Cincinnati and set San Francisco up for Aiyuk’s winning touchdown a play later. Kittle finished with 13 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown in the win.
If the 49ers have a healthy Kittle, they will be a tough out in the NFC.
Why the Bengals lost
Mistakes on special teams in the first half definitely hurt the Bengals early, starting with two Darius Phillips muffed punts that led to 10 San Francisco points. The second one was a major momentum swing, as the Bengals had an opportunity to get some points before the half prior to the error. Garoppolo took advantage of the miscue, finding Kittle for the touchdown to give San Francisco a commanding 17-6 lead heading into the break.
Kicker Evan McPherson also missed a field goal in the third quarter, costing the Bengals another three points. That’s 13 points Cincinnati gave San Francisco off three mistakes that can’t be made in December. Those errors are part of the reason why Cincinnati is currently out of a wild-card spot in the AFC.
Nick Bosa’s sack on Joe Burrow on third-and-3 in overtime was the play that forced the Bengals to kick a field goal and not win the game on the opening possession of overtime. Bosa’s second sack of the game came with the Bengals needing a first down. Cincinnati was on San Francisco’s 19 when Bosa sacked a mobile Burrow for a loss of four — forcing the Bengals not to go for it on fourth-and-7 and have Evan McPherson kick the field goal for the overtime lead.
That Bosa sack gave Garoppolo and the offense an opportunity to win the game.
Play of the game
Shockingly — it’s not a catch by Kittle. Brandon Aiyuk’s overtime game-winning touchdown deserves the honor as his 12-yard reception sealed the deal for the 49ers.
The catch by Aiyuk started with a Garoppolo play fake to Jeff Wilson, who flipped it to Aiyuk in open space as he did a superhero leap into the end zone for the win. The ball was initially ruled out at the one-yard line, but was reviewed and overturned for the winning touchdown.
A tremendous play by Aiyuk to make sure the 49ers won on that catch. The ball just got over the plane before his knee touched the ground.
“We tried everything.” — Bengals head coach Zac Taylor on trying to stop George Kittle.
His 13 catches — including the two on third down late in the fourth quarter and overtime — were the difference in this one. The Bengals had no answer to stop Kittle all afternoon.
The 49ers (7-6) host the Falcons (6-7) next Sunday in a battle for a wild-card spot in the NFC. The Bengals (7-6) travel to Denver to face the Broncos (6-7) in a battle between two contenders for a wild-card spot in the AFC.
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