Rather than heading into the bye week with a victory, the San Francisco 49ers lost their third consecutive game on Sunday afternoon. Their 31-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was arguably the Niners’ worst overall performance of the season. The team will now get an extra week to reflect on their biggest loss of the year.
Here are position-by-position grades from the game:
What made Brock Purdy such a notable improvement over Jimmy Garoppolo last year was his willingness to take chances, giving the 49ers elite playmakers more opportunities to make plays, alongside his ability to avoid turnovers. As of a few weeks ago, Purdy stopped avoiding turnovers. Purdy had two more ugly interceptions on Sunday, both in the fourth quarter when the Niners were down 17-10.
While the fumble came in garbage time, it came immediately after another interception that was wiped out by a roughing the pass call. It was Purdy’s sixth fumble of the season (after recording zero as a rookie). Purdy delivered some impressive throws, and continued to show off excellent elusiveness in the pocket, but it was far from enough to overshadow his mistakes.
Running backs: B
Christian McCaffrey averaged just over 4.5 yards per carry on his 12 attempts and probably should have had his number called a bit more in the fourth quarter.
He also hauled in six of his seven targets for his 64 receiving yards. It stills seems like a missed opportunity that head coach Kyle Shanahan hasn’t found a way to integrate some combination of Jordan Mason and Elijah Mitchell into the offensive game plan given McCaffrey’s versatility while Deebo Samuel is out, but McCaffrey nonetheless had 120 yards from scrimmage and scored the 49ers only two touchdowns.
Wide receivers: C-
Brandon Aiyuk had a good game, racking up 109 receiving yards on five receptions, but also had a costly drop at the end of the first half. Still, he was the only Niners receiver who generated any consistent separation. Ray-Ray McCloud had a 41-yard reception in garbage time, but by removing that play from the stat sheet, receivers other than Aiyuk had just one reception for two yards.
Tight ends: A
Without a second receiver stepping up, George Kittle did the lion’s share of the work for Purdy as a pass catcher. His final line got padded a bit in garbage time, but Kittle finished the game with 149 yards on nine receptions (11 targets).
Offensive line: D
Purdy was under fairly consistent pressure and easily could have finished the game with more than two sacks if not for his elusiveness. The offensive line did give McCaffrey some decent holes to run through, but they were asked to pass block far more often on Sunday.
Defensive line: D+
Nick Bosa and Clelin Ferrell combined on one sack and four quarterback hits off the edge against Joe Burrow, but Arik Armstead was the only defensive lineman who stood out. Armstead tallied two sacks and also had two tackles for loss and two more quarterback hits before the game was over. Given Armstead’s dominance, the 49ers just needed one other lineman to step up. That didn’t happen. Javon Hargrave, by the way, was unable to record a single tackle or hit on Burrow.
It was another unusually inconsistent game for Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. The 49ers top two linebackers combined for 18 tackles, but had some questionable angles and missed a few tackles. Everything seems disjointed on San Francisco’s defense right now, and the fact that the team’s elite linebacker duo has looked so out of sorts the past couple of weeks seems like the main reason why.
Isaiah Oliver’s ball skills came in handy again, recovering a fumble, but that was far from enough to outweigh his continued struggles in coverage. It’s no secret that Cincinnati’s receiving corp is a difficult matchup for any team, and the 49ers’ thin secondary proved to be inept.
Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson were much more involved in the action this week, combining for 18 tackles, but it’s easy to rack up tackles when nearly every opposing pass attempt is completed.
Special teams: A
Jake Moody was perfect on his kicks and Mitch Wishnowsky averaged more than 50 yards on his three punts. However, the coverage unit did allow a 41-yard kickoff return.