The 49ers stole a wild one on the road in overtime versus the Bengals 26-23 on Sunday afternoon. In a game that could have gone either way, Jimmy Garoppolo led two game-winning drives, one capped off by a missed field goal in the final seconds of the fourth quarter and the second capped off with a walk-off touchdown pass in the near-flat to Brandon Aiyuk, who snuck the ball in over the pylon as he went out of bounds.
The replay official determined that he did indeed cross the goal line, and that was it. The 49ers flew home to Santa Clara 7-6 and back in the sixth seed of the playoff race. The game could’ve easily ended when Garoppolo failed to identify the robber safety in cover-1 robber/cross again just past midfield, but safety Jesse Bates, who had the pass in his hands, dropped it as his eyes went to the end zone. That pick-6 could’ve ended the game. But it did not and gave Garoppolo another chance late in overtime.
Everyone held their breath as Cincinnati picked on the 49ers banged-up secondary and marched down the field in two chunk plays on a defense that held Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense mostly in check until late in the third quarter. They settled for a field goal, and then it was up to Garoppolo again.
This time, he delivered and hit several big throws in overtime to give his team a chance to win.
First play, 1st-and-10 at SF-25, 6:15 remaining
The 49ers are starting the drive at their own 25-yard line after getting the ball back after a Bengals field goal. The play call is a play-action shotgun dagger shallow concept out of a shotgun 3x1 Y nub formation.
Garoppolo motions Deebo Samuel over on a fast motion to the right, with Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings running the deep crosser and dagger routes. The dagger and crossing routes are not really an option on this play because as soon as Garoppolo sets up to throw, there’s pressure from the right side that causes him to climb the pocket. At that point, a throw to the dagger would be very risky, so he keeps the play alive by hitting his check down. Live to fight another down.
Second play, false start, no play
George Kittle false starts, killing the play and backing the 49ers up after his previous eight-yard gain on first down.
Third play, 2nd-and-7 at SF 28, 5:35 remaining
The play call is a play-action stalk rail concept where a wide receiver motions over to the right and fakes like he will block for the wide receiver screen. Shanahan likes the bubble screen run-pass option off this look, and they run it backside while Jennings runs a stalk rail route.
The defender does not bite on the fakes stalk block and stays in phase down the sideline with Jennings. Garoppolo makes a nice in-play adjustment to see the defender running with Jennings on his hip and throws a back-shoulder ball for Jennings to go up and grab. Garoppolo keeps it away from the defender and moves the chains for the offense.
Fourth play, 1st-and-10 at CIN 47, 4:47 remaining
The play call “2 Jet All Go” and is run from a 2x2 formation with 11 personnel.
The Bengals are showing quarters coverage on the back end. The inside wide receivers bend their verticals inside around 10 yards vs. 2-high coverage like quarters, so their routes stay away from the safeties sitting deep. As soon as Kittle uncovers behind the strong hook defender, Garoppolo throws before the safety can react. This is exactly the throw that needed to be made on this concept vs. 2-high.
Fifth and sixth plays
After Kittle’s 19-yard catch, the next two plays were a pass that went for three yards and a run that went for two yards, setting up a critical third down play.
Seventh play, 3rd-and-5 at CIN 21, 2:34 remaining
The play call is a quick passing game West Coast Offense staple, “Dragon Lion F Over.” It’s a quick game concept with a slant/flat concept on one side and double slants on the other side, while a third receiver on the slant/flat side runs an “over the ball” route.
The Bengals are in cover-5 (cover-2 man) on this third down to prevent the receivers from getting open and possibly forcing Garoppolo into a hurried throw. Pre-snap tells Garoppolo where to go. With a defender over Kittle and a hole in the middle of the field due to the defender shading over the running back, Garoppolo has his target. He hits Kittle on the inside slant in a tight window for a gain of nine yards on 3rd-and-5.
Eighth play, 1st-and-10 at CIN 12, 2:00 remaining
Garoppolo made some nice throws on this drive, but the game is won when Aiyuk gets a ton of space to run on a play-action concept called “Fake 18 Wanda Z slide.” The Bengals are in single-high coverage as they don’t want to give up a big running play. The 49ers only ran the ball once on the current drive and were due to steal some yards on a possibly ran to the edge.
However, Shanahan called the right play at the right time. Jimmy fakes the run, and the flow pulls the Bengals' defense out of the play as the boot keeper action goes the other way. The downfield routes are covered, but Garoppolo flings the ball out to Aiyuk on the slide route in the flat. He beats the safety to the edge, turns upfield, and dives at the pylon. The play was initially ruled down at the goal line, but a video replay showed Aiyuk hitting the pylon before going out of bounds. Touchdown. Game over.
Garoppolo was far from perfect in this one, but he rose to the challenge of overtime and led a game-winning drive after hitting several good throws on that drive above. The 49ers have the Falcons, Titans, and Texans coming up before week 18, all winnable games. They’ll need complete-game performances from all three phases if they’re going to retain their playoff spot.