49ers vs. Bengals: Week 14 position grades from nail-biting OT win

George Kittle #85 and Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
George Kittle #85 and Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) Mandatory Credit: Imagn Images /

49ers defensive grades vs. Bengals

The Niners defense during the first half was certainly solid, and then things changed late in the third quarter and especially in the fourth.

To be fair, San Francisco was starting a rookie cornerback, Ambry Thomas, in place of the injured Emmanuel Moseley and without Dontae Johnson, whose mother just passed away because of a heart attack, news of such released just after the game.

So, some massive bumps in the road were to be expected, and the 49ers ultimately gave up 397 all-purpose yards.

Defensive Line: A

If the Niners had trouble protecting Jimmy Garoppolo, Cincinnati sure had issues protecting Joe Burrow, which lead to the second-year quarterback getting sacked five times, too, with EDGE Nick Bosa picking up two of those to increase his season total to 14.

Depth EDGEs Arden Key and Samson Ebukam each split a sack, which helped matters, too, and San Francisco also held running back Joe Mixon and a potent Cincy rushing attack to an average of just 3.3 yards per carry.

San Francisco lost this game if its defensive line didn’t play as well as it did.

Linebacker: B+

All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner is still one of the best in the league and had seven tackles during the game, yet 2021 has been about the emergence of third-year pro Azeez Al-Shaair, who unfortunately left the game due to an injury but not before recording 11 tackles, a sack, three tackles for a loss and a pass broken up.

The 49ers better hope Al-Shaair returns soon. He’s been a difference-maker.

Secondary: D-

One almost has to grade on a curve with regards to this unit, which started off strong enough to limit the Bengals’ dangerous wide receiver trio of Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase.

Those three didn’t get going early, fortunately, but the second half proved to be a problem when Cincinnati began to find the holes in a primarily zone-style of defense to account for Thomas and, later in the game, fellow rookie corner Deommodore Lenoir.

Thomas was beat multiple times in the game, one that went for a touchdown and another that was barely ruled incomplete, and he was also flagged twice for illegal hands to the face, wiping out another Bosa sack and a would-be pick by safety Jimmie Ward.

Additionally, Chase beat safety Talanoa Hufanga for another touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Chase had two scores and 77 yards, while Higgins led the Bengals with 114 yards on five receptions.

It could have been much, much worse, however.