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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Darius Phillips, River Cracraft, Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver River Cracraft (13) recovers a fumble from Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips (23) Mandatory Credit: Imagn Images /

49ers special teams, coaching grades vs. Bengals

A week after special teams doomed the Niners against the Seattle Seahawks, it was refreshing to see coordinator Richard Hightower’s unit be on the right side of various plays in Week 14.

Mostly.

Granted, Cincy made some of its own mistakes, muffing two punt-return attempts San Francisco was able to recover and turn into points. All too often, though, the 49ers have been on the wrong side of those as well.

Special Teams: B-

Recovering those two muffed punts was key for the Niners, and it helped set the tone early in what was a dominant first half by San Francisco.

And if anything else had changed, the 49ers would be talking about a loss, so there’s that to consider.

It wasn’t all good, though, as the Niners watched kicker Robbie Gould miss what could have been a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, that would have spared the nervousness associated with any overtime bout. In total, Gould was 2-of-3 on his field-goal tries, but those clutch ones are supposed to be made.

At least San Francisco didn’t give up any fake-punt touchdowns or muff any of its own returns, though, so that’s a boost.

Coaching: B-

Again, something of a curved grade here, as defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans had to make up for the absence of two veteran cornerbacks and was forced to start Ambry Thomas.

A predominantly zone-coverage scheme worked early, but there wasn’t a lot of ways to stray from it late in the fourth quarter and into overtime. The few times Ryans removed safety help from over the top, Thomas looked to be beat.

On the flip side, though, Ryans’ job wasn’t made that much easier by Kyle Shanahan’s offense falling flat after a third-quarter field goal. While execution surely falls upon the players’ shoulders, Shanahan is also partially responsible for ensuring his side of the ball retains some momentum.

Particularly down the stretch of any game. The 49ers got lucky in that regard, as Cincinnati had almost all of it in the fourth quarter and early in overtime.

Still, Shanahan’s play-calling in the extra frame was spot on, and that sure helped drive the Niners’ victory, as well as getting back above the .500 mark after this tough, crucial Week 14 bout.

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