Some games are about which team wants it most.
Sunday’s game between the 49ers and Bengals was about which team could mess up the most.
In the end, it turned out the Bengals’ errors overwhelmed the Niners’ miscues, as Brandon Aiyuk’s impressive 11-yard touchdown catch-and-run with two minutes remaining in overtime gave San Francisco a 26-23 win.
Here were the studs, and duds from a peculiar contest:
Think No. 85 makes a bit of a difference?
Kittle was unquestionably the best player on the field on Sunday — a game-breaker who Cincinnati could not defend. And while Jimmy Garoppolo was sub-par overall — throwing a few near-interceptions and plenty of hospital balls, he fed Kittle early and often in Ohio. That concept was the backbone of a winning game plan.
Over his last two games, Kittle has 22 catches for 332 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday, he went for 13 catches for 151 yards, with a great deal of those yards coming after contact. On one play on the first half, it took six Bengals to bring him down.
The 49ers’ offense needs a few things. Deebo Samuel, competent blocking, and Kittle.
Before he left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with an elbow injury, Al-Shaair had strung together just about the best six quarters of linebacker play I’ve seen in a long while. His stat line against the Bengals was stunning: 11 tackles, three for a loss, a sack, a pass breakup, and a near-interception.
It’s all clicking for Al-Shaair and it changed the timbre of the Niners’ defense. If he’s out for an extended period of time, that spells trouble for the Niners.
Quite simply, the Bengals couldn’t block Bosa. He moved all across the line and used every move he has to scuttle Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow. Bosa had two sacks, but created two more. While the entire Niners’ defensive line had a nice game, it was Bosa who was, as expected, the standout. He’s one of the NFL’s best players and deserves serious All-Pro consideration this season.
It wasn’t a flashy game. Far from it. But Wilson was really solid getting the start in the place of Elijah Mitchell. Wilson didn’t carry the ball 30-something times, but 13 carries for 56 yards is a solid performance that opened up the whole playbook for the Niners.
Whoever covered the football in cooking oil
The Niners’ best offensive plays of regulation were a nice Deebo Samuel end-around touchdown run, a couple of throws over the middle to Kittle, and two punts. The Bengals could simply not hold onto the ball on punts, to the point that it became downright comical.
Darius Phillips lost two fumbles on punt returns and Stanley Morgan fumbled a kickoff return that was not spotted by the referees.
I don’t know who decided to cover the special teams balls with cooking oil, but well played.
Three points, total, in the last two second halves.
Clearly, something is busted with the 49ers’ offense, as teams are able to shut them down after a quick look at the film during the break.
Credit to Garoppolo for leading the Niners into position to kick a game-winning field goal (after a game-winning pick-six was dropped) and eventually, the game-winning touchdown in overtime, but in all, he was highly ineffective Sunday in a game the Niners should have won handily. This is a league that’s defined by quarterbacks — 14 of the last 15 league MVPs have played the position. The Niners simply need more from their quarterback.
A win is a win, but Garoppolo was carried by the Niners to victory, not the other way around.
Hindsight is 20-20, but it’s plainly evident know why the Niners weren’t playing Thomas. He was abused on Sunday, particularly in the second half, and he added two bad penalties that wiped away an interception and a Nick Bosa sack. Throwing it over, around, and through Thomas became all too easy for the Bengals after halftime on Sunday. Along with the offense sputtering, The Bengals figuring out that they could have whatever they wanted on the boundary side of the field flipped the game.
The 49ers kicker messes at least one thing up per game these days, so seeing as he was flawless heading onto the field for the possible game-winning field goal, a miss was as guaranteed as the contract the Niners gave him when Kyle Shanahan flinched before the start of training camp in 2019.
Tom Compton as a pass blocker
Compton was great as a run blocker on Sunday, but he is making Niners fans miss Mike McGlinchey and making the injured right tackle’s fifth-year option look like a bargain. Compton was pushed around by a strong-as-all-get-out Bengals defensive line for all 69 minutes of the game Sunday. A better team — or a Bengals team that that had Trey Hendrickson the whole game — could take advantage.