SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Joe Burrow set the tone early when he ducked out of two sack attempts, scrambled away and converted a third-down pass that extended a game-opening touchdown drive for Cincinnati.
After being hampered early in the season by an injured calf, Burrow looked like his old self once again and that means the Bengals look like contenders.
Burrow threw three touchdown passes, Cincinnati intercepted Brock Purdy on back-to-back passes in the second half and the Bengals beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-17 on Sunday for their fourth win in five games.
“All you need to say now is, ‘Welcome back, Burrow. Welcome back,’” receiver Ja'Marr Chase said.
Burrow completed 19 straight passes at one point for the Bengals and finished 28 for 32 for 283 yards against a defense for the 49ers (5-3) that has uncharacteristically struggled in recent weeks.
But it was what he was able to do with his legs that was almost as important for the Bengals (4-3) after being severely limited before the bye week from his preseason calf injury.
There was the escape act on the opening drive that led to a completion to Tee Higgins. There was the time he audibled into a QB draw on third-and-9 and converted with a 10-yard run. There was a 20-yard scramble to set up a field goal in the third quarter. There was the ability to play from under center which opened up opportunities for runs and play-action passes.
“I worked really hard on that all offseason and for four or five weeks I haven’t been able to really show that," Burrow said. "So when you see hard work pay off, it’s exciting.”
Burrow helped Cincinnati take control of the game early in the fourth quarter after Logan Wilson intercepted a pass from Purdy. The Bengals struck on the next play when Burrow lofted a 17-yard TD pass to Chase to make it 24-10.
Purdy had thrown an interception on the previous drive in the red zone to Germaine Pratt, giving him five interceptions in the past three games after having none in the first five.
Purdy, who played despite being in concussion protocol during the week, threw for 365 yards and had a TD pass to Christian McCaffrey on the drive after his back-to-back interceptions.
But Burrow responded with two long passes to Trenton Irwin and Chase and two first downs running to set up Joe Mixon's 5-yard run with 2:54 left for the Bengals.
“This is what we know we’re capable of," coach Zac Taylor after his team's best offensive performance of the season.
Purdy lost a fumble on a strip-sack to Trey Hendrickson to seal the loss for the 49ers, who have been held to 17 points or fewer in three straight games for the first time since Kyle Shanahan's first season in 2017.
“This isn't on any one coach or any one side of the ball,” Shanahan said. “We haven't scored over 20 points here in three weeks too. I think our defense needs to be better, our offense needs to do better, our team needs to do better.”
Burrow and the Bengals started fast as he connected on TD passes to Tyler Boyd and Andrei Iosivas on the first two drives of the game to take a 14-7 lead.
Cincinnati had chances to add to the lead but Evan McPherson missed a 50-yard field goal following a third-down sack and Irv Smith lost a fumble at the 49ers 5 late in the half to keep it 14-10.
McCaffrey also scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter, giving him at least one TD in 17 straight games, including the playoffs. That tied the NFL record set by Lenny Moore in 1963-64.
McCaffrey's TD catch in the fourth quarter gave him at least one rushing and throwing in 14 games — one shy of Marshall Faulk's NFL record.
The interceptions by Pratt and Wilson were nothing to be surprised about for the Bengals as they have combined for five this season for the most of any linebacker group on the NFL. Wilson's 10 interceptions are four more than any other linebacker since he entered the NFL in 2020.
“We wouldn’t trade them for anybody," Taylor said. "There’s a lot of good linebacker duos in this league, we wouldn’t trade them for anybody.”
Bengals: Hendrickson (left ankle) left briefly in the first half but was able to return.
49ers: LT Trent Williams missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle.
Bengals: Host Buffalo on Sunday night.
49ers: Bye week; visit Jacksonville on Nov. 12.
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