49ers OT Road Win!

December football is play off football. The margins are slim. Every game has a sense of urgency. December is the last leg of the journey to the playoffs. The 49ers and the Bengals have Super Bowl History. The Bengals have lost two nail biters to the Niners in two different Super Bowl’s. The 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals came into this week’s game evenly matched though the Bengal’s record was slightly better at 7-5. The Niners and the Bengals run a similar offense. Their defenses are also similar. They each needed a win to help solidify their playoff standing. If the Bengal’s won, they would push the Ravens off the ledge and lead the AFC North. For the Niners, a win moves them up the rung of wild card positions.

Like this week’s Dallas game, this game was also a tail of two halves. The 49ers scored 17 points and allowed six points in the first half. However, in the second half they allowed 20 points while only scoring three.

The 49ers offense struggled without Elijah Mitchell. He has settled into the role of 49ers number one running back. He runs, he catches, and he pass protects. He is now an essential cog in the wheel of the 49ers offensive success. This week’s challenge was to create a viable run game in Mitchell’s absence while keeping a highly talented Joe Burrows at bay. The pass game as well as the pass defense would have to step up for the 49ers to prevail.

In the first half, the pass defense stepped up as the offense executed a more balanced attack. The leading rusher in the first half was Deebo Samuel with 33 yards and a touchdown on four carries, while Jimmy Garoppolo threw 11/16 for 69 yards and a touchdown. The real key to the 49ers success in the first half was the opportunistic play of the special teams. The Bengals forced two punts and muffed both returns allowing the 49ers offense short fields to play on. The 49ers converted the turnovers to a total of ten points in the first half. In addition, the he Niners put together only one 75 yard touchdown drive in the first half.

In the second half, after their first field goal drive, the 49ers offense struggled to move the ball until the last 1:19 of the game. While the 49ers defense won the third quarter, they fell flat on their face in the fourth quarter. Joe Burrow came alive in the fourth quarter and put on an exhilarating magic show. The Bengals had three possessions in the fourth quarter. Two of those possessions ended with incredible throws from Burrows to Ja’Marr Chase for touchdowns. The last touchdown tied the ball game with a toe tapping catch by Chase in the back of the endzone. Though I am a Niners fan, it was pretty special to watch these two former LSU Tigers work together when the game mattered most.

The game almost didn’t make it to overtime. Jimmy G put together a 10 play 50-yard drive connecting with Juan Jennings, Kyle Juszczyck, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle to put the Niners in position to kick the go-ahead field goal. Robbie Gould kicked it wide right, sending the old Super Bowl rivals to overtime.

During overtime the defense did their job and only allowed three points giving Jimmy G and company one last shot at victory. Once again Jimmy G spread the ball around to four different receiver’s during the Niners 7 play 75 yard drive to victory. The Niners were only in one third down situation the whole drive. Jimmy G connected with Kittle to keep the drive alive. The Niners drained four minutes and 22 seconds off the clock as they moved the ball. Coach Shanahan was playing both for the win and or the tie. The play calling was masterful and the execution was just as good. The drive ended with a quick flick of the wrist, sending the pig skin from Jimmy G to Aiyuk who danced his way to the endzone holding the ball over the pylon as he was pushed out by a Bengal defender. Touchdown! Game over. On to the next one.

The Niners pulled together as a team to beat a very good Cincinnati Bengals team. The AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in football. The defense secured five sacks, two of which were collected by Nick Bosa. He had a key sack in overtime pushing the Bengals offense back leading to the field goal. Arden Key, Samson Ebukam, K’Waun Williams and Azeez Al-Shaair all secured a piece of the quarterback on Sunday. The Niners secondary was down a starter. Rookie Ambry Thomas stepped in and made his fair share of mistakes. He was penalized twice for hands to the face, and he was beat a couple of times by receivers. However, it was a great learning experience for him and hopefully he will be the better player for it. The Niners rotation on the defensive line really helps the back seven play better. Hopefully they can keep that recipe for success going.

Jimmy G didn’t throw an interception, though he managed to fumble the ball. Thankfully it was not a turnover. He connected with six receivers for 255 yards and two touchdowns. For the second week in a row George Kittle went over 150 yards receiving. This is a new NFL record for tight ends. He also caught a touchdown. Aiyuk continues to improve catching 6 for 62 and the game winning touchdown. Juan Jennings is growing into a reliable contested catch receiver. Every ball he secures seems to go for a first down. He is a bruising blocker down field and he is becoming a trusted option to catch the ball.

The 49ers are learning how to overcome their injuries. They are playing together. They are playing for each other. They just proved to themselves that they can win on the road during overtime. Anytime you can win on the road, in the cold, in an extremely adverse situation, you build confidence for the games ahead. The Niners continue their march to the playoffs.

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