Bengals roar out of bye week, topple 49ers and set the tone for the rest of the season

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals came out of the bye week looking like contenders again.

The calf injury that slowed the star quarterback early in the season seemed to be a distant memory on Sunday as Burrow passed into tight windows, ducked out of sacks and scrambled for big gains as the Bengals (4-3) played their most complete game of the season with a 31-17 road win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Burrow has shown the ability to raise the level of play of his teammates. Ja'Marr Chase had 10 more catches Sunday, the ground game got some more traction, and the defense picked off 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy twice.

“We needed this one,” Burrow said.

Burrow threw for three touchdowns. His 87.5% completion rate was a career high. He completed 19 passes in a row, also a career high, finishing 28 for 32 for 283 yards. He ran for another 43 on the ground. Burrow's 20-yard scramble extended a drive early in the second half that led to a 56-yard field goal and a 17-10 Cincinnati lead.

“I told him on the field — I was like, ‘Welcome back, bro,’” said Chase, who finished with 10 catches for 100 yards.

Coach Zac Taylor said his confidence in Burrow making good decisions has never wavered.

“I don’t use that word ‘unbelievable’ anymore,” Taylor said. “That’s just what you’ve come to expect.”

Cincinnati has won three in a row and four of the past five since dropping the first two of the season while Burrow was still rehabbing the strained calf muscle that sidelined him for all of training camp.

The return to form is timely for Burrow and the Bengals, who will face AFC rival Buffalo (5-3) on Sunday night.

WHAT'S WORKING

Most everything was working most of the time Sunday. The offense gained a season-high 400 yards, scoring touchdowns through the air and on the ground. The defense allowed Purdy a lot of passing yards (365) but got some timely stops.

Linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson had critical interceptions. One play after Wilson's pick early in the fourth quarter, Burrow hit Chase in stride for a 17-yard TD and a 24-10 Cincinnati lead. Chase celebrated it with a back flip.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Production from the tight end position has been nearly nonexistent. Irv Smith Jr. fumbled inside the 49ers 5-yard line just before halftime, wasting a chance for the Bengals to go up by two scores. Cincinnati let productive pass-catching tight end Hayden Hurst leave during free agency, and picked up Smith who has been disappointing.

STOCK UP

RB Joe Mixon had his best game of the season behind an offensive line that was able to give him space. He rushed 16 times for 87 yards, an average of 5.4 yards per carry, and ran in untouched for 5-yard TD late in the game. That was just his second rushing touchdown this season.

STOCK DOWN

Smith, bothered by a hamstring injury this season, has 10 catches for 57 yards in four games.

INJURIES

DE Trey Hendrickson (left ankle) left in the first half, but returned.

KEY NUMBER

11 — Home win streak by the 49ers snapped by Cincinnati.

NEXT STEPS

Keep Burrow healthy and happy so he can keep finding Chase. Maintain and improve the run game. A balanced attack will be beneficial as the Bengals grapple with AFC North opponents. They still play the Steelers twice (Nov. 26 and Dec. 23) and have the chance to avenge early season losses to Baltimore (Nov. 16) and Cleveland in the final week of the season.

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