Neither 49ers, Bengals can afford to take loss in matchup
Two teams in nearly identical playoff situations hope to bounce back from costly defeats when the Cincinnati Bengals host the San Francisco 49ers in an important interconference duel Sunday afternoon.
The Bengals (7-5) enter Week 14 in slightly better shape in terms of playoff positioning than the 49ers (6-6), due in large part to being just one game out of first place in the AFC North behind the Baltimore Ravens (8-4).
Meanwhile, the 49ers are well off the torrid pace of the Arizona Cardinals (10-2) in the NFC West.
The similarity in the playoff races is that the Bengals are one of eight teams in the AFC with five or six losses, so another defeat could move them significantly down the standings.
Similarly, there are seven teams in the NFC with six or seven losses, putting the 49ers on shaky ground.
Another thing the teams have in common is an untimely injury situation at running back.
Bengals standout running back Joe Mixon had to leave last week’s 41-22 home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a neck injury. Cincinnati had hoped Mixon would be cleared to practice this week, but he was a no-show at the first 49ers prep on Wednesday because of a non-COVID illness.
Samaje Perine, who stepped in with 59- and 52-yard outings when Mixon was slowed by injuries earlier this season, has been put on stand-by.
Mixon wasn’t the only Bengal to get battered by the Chargers’ defense. Quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a dislocated right pinky on a first-quarter sack, but was able to play through it.
Burrow managed to throw for 300 yards but suffered a pair of interceptions in the loss. Afterward, he told Bengals fans not to worry.
“I’m not gonna miss any time,” he said, before adding, “unless it somehow gets worse, then I’ll be playing (against the 49ers).”
Burrow has never faced the 49ers, and vice versa. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan sees that as an advantage for his team, being that the Bengals have the same offensive coordinator (Brian Callahan) as they had when the clubs last met in September 2019, a game the 49ers won 41-17 on the road.
“They haven’t changed their philosophies. Schematically, it’s very similar,” Shanahan said. “Some similar players and some different players, so there’s some carryovers.”
What the Bengals won’t see are either of the running backs (Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert) who combined to rush for 204 yards for San Francisco that day. Breida has since joined the Buffalo Bills, while Mostert was injured in this year’s opener.
Rookie Elijah Mitchell has taken over as the club’s primary ground-gainer, but he suffered a concussion in last week’s 30-23 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He missed practice on Wednesday and his status for the trip to Cincinnati is uncertain.
Also, backup Jeff Wilson Jr. tweaked a knee injury in the loss and was limited Wednesday. That left the team in such a bind to complement JaMycal Hasty at practice to start the week, the 49ers added a veteran off the scrap heap that Shanahan knew no better than to refer to as, “Hill. Brian, I believe is his first name.”
Hill has rushed for 982 yards and three touchdowns in 45 NFL games with the Cincinnati Bengals (2017) and Atlanta Falcons (2017-20).
The 49ers lead the all-time series 12-4, which includes a 26-21 win in Super Bowl XVI and a 20-16 triumph in the Super Bowl XXIII rematch.
–Field Level Media