Behind the scenes of 49ers’ NFL Week 14 overtime win over Bengals


CINCINNATI — “That was a damn playoff game out there,” said George Kittle, still fired up in his John Lennon yellow-tinted sunglasses, in the tunnel of Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday night, an hour after Niners 26, Bengals 23. Overtime.

“I mean, every game’s a playoff game these days, right?” he said.

We’re in the final month of the NFL’s 102nd season, and it feels like the game has never been closer. Or wackier. Five teams in the AFC: 7-6. Five teams in the NFC: 6-7. Twenty-four of the 32 teams in pro football have at least six wins and are legitimately still in the playoff race.

I came here to see the perfect metaphor for the 2021 NFL season. The Bengals and Niners were hot, then both slipped on banana peels last week, and both came into this game in prime playoff shape. The Bengals, through 12 games, were in the AFC playoffs and the 49ers just out of the NFC playoffs. Exiting this game, through 14 weeks, the Bengals were out and the 49ers in. It’s like the weather here. Howling winds and driving rain at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, clear and breezy by noon.

Too early to say if it’s a trend or if it’s a coincidence, this NFL egalitarianism. But it’s fun to ride the roller coaster with teams that are extremely close in talent and performance and ability.

This is what happened Sunday: The Bengals muffed two punts and a kickoff in the first half and the Niners turned them into 10 points and took a 17-6 halftime lead. It was 20-6 with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the Cincinnati quarterback turned into Machine Gun Burrow. First, a 66-yard drive ending with his favorite throw ever to Ja’Marr Chase trolling the back line of the end zone, maybe one blade of fake green grass between his foot and the boundary. Then, an 87-yard drive ending with a Chase double-move for a 32-yard TD at the right pylon. Tie ballgame. Niners frantically tried for the winning points in the final minute, and Kittle climbed the ladder for one of the great catches of his life, like he was skying for a rebound against LeBron James, and the Niners lined up Robbie Gould for the winning field goal. Wide right. Pffffft. Air out of the Niners balloon.

Overtime: Burrow was scalding hot, and Zac Taylor, once in field-goal range, called two straight Joe Mixon runs (for seven yards total), and then Burrow was sacked and Cincinnati settled for a field goal. “That’s one that’ll keep you up at night,” Taylor said, meaning he wishes he put the ball in Burrow’s hands on at least one of the runs. The Niners, with three more big throws to Kittle (Will someone please cover the guy?), and then a pylon-scraping, replay-reviewed Brandon Aiyuk catch that turned into the walkoff TD.

“Coach!” Deebo Samuel told Kyle Shanahan during the review. “It’s a touchdown! Celebrate!”

“No way,” Shahanan said. “Not celebrating till they call it a touchdown.”

Ref Craig Wrolstad did. The game was won by the scraping of a pylon. So fitting for these teams, in this season.

The Bengals may have won it with one more called Burrow pass in overtime. The Niners could have won it if a Gould kick floated 20 inches to the left. The Bengals would have won it if their returners could catch. Ifs, buts and so on. The Bengals, 7-6, slunk out of the stadium Sunday night. The 49ers, 7-6, levitated out of it.

On Saturday, Bengals coach Zac Taylor sat in a new conference room at Paul Brown Stadium. “First time I’ve been in here,” Taylor said, and he appreciated the history lessons that filled the room. On one wall is an image of Bengals founder Paul Brown, the NFL coach Bill Belichick most looks up to. Brown brought the NFL to Cincinnati in 1968, and every coach who guides the franchise feels his influence. As one of them, Sam Wyche, used to say, “Working in Paul Brown’s organization is like living next to a library. I’d be a fool if I didn’t check out the books.”

THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS IS THE DEDICATION YOU GIVE, one of Brown’s sayings. It defined his ethos.

That’s the kind of ethos Taylor wants his players to have too. He can hear about it all day from Paul Brown’s son, Mike, the current owner and steward of the franchise. Last week, when the coaching staff was down after the loss to the Chargers, Mike Brown said something his dad probably would have said. Taylor recalls: “His point to us was basically, We’ve done a lot of good to put ourselves in this position. Let’s not forget about the good things we’ve done.” Taylor loved it, because it’s true. “As I’ve told the players,” Taylor said, “we’re not counting on anyone else. We’re counting on ourselves. And that’s a good position to be in.”

(NBC Sports)

In this game, Taylor’s excited—but he also has some trepidation, because of the injury to quarterback Joe Burrow’s throwing-hand pinky last week. “He doesn’t give a lot of information,” Taylor said. Even to his coach. That’s how Burrow is. He won’t tell anyone anything about any sort of limitation he’d have. Interestingly, he and Taylor did agree entering this game to eliminate one challenging throw from the game plan—apparently because Burrow wouldn’t be comfortable making the throw. Other than that, Taylor plans to call plays for Burrow the same as always, unless he sees Burrow struggling to throw it.

The Bengals changed when they drafted Joe Burrow. Period. “He’s really, really good,” Kyle Shanahan told me over the weekend. “I was pretty restless after our loss at Seattle last week, so when I got home Sunday night I couldn’t sleep. I threw on the Chargers-Bengals game from that day. That definitely didn’t help me sleep. He’s so good, and those three receivers. Scary.”

People around the league, many of them, view the Bengals as a mysterious, non-progressive franchise sometimes. Hard to trade with, inflexible with their beliefs in merging coaches with the scouting process. But not long after Robert Kraft bought the Patriots, he had dinner one night with Mike Brown and asked him what were the biggest keys to building a winning franchise. The quarterback and the coach, Brown told him.

The Bengals have had their share of good passers. Kenny Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Carson Palmer, plus Andy Dalton had much regular-season success. When they sat with the first overall pick in 2020, there was no question they’d take Burrow. Last week, I asked Brown about the rumors that Miami either offered five first-round picks or would have done so to get Burrow. Brown told me: “It would not have mattered what the price someone offered was. We were sure about him, and we weren’t trading the pick.”

Said Brown: “He has an intense focus. He grasps all the material quickly. He is always poised. He is never scared. No one here—no one—thinks of challenging him when he’s got a conviction. We really like him.”

Sunday was a perfect example of what Burrow means to this franchise. He is the rising tide that lifts all boats. He is the reason the Bengals have more than a puncher’s chance to be a playoff team. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, this game looked lost. There was 9:29 left in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati was down 20-6, and the Bengals had fourth-and-five at the Niners’ 17-yard line. Burrow got some heavy pressure, and he circled back to the right—scramble drill—and while Chase trolled the back of the end zone, running left, Burrow threw it behind him—to the right.

NFL: DEC 12 49ers at Bengals
Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. (Getty Images)

“While I was still running left, he threw to the right, and I wasn’t sure why he would do that,” Chase said. “But he said it was because of the way the defender would have to turn his hips to get to the ball. I thought, ‘That’s kind of smart.’ “

Burrow said, “He did a great of adjusting to the ball in the air. I know exactly what he was seeing and he knew exactly what I was seeing. He put his foot in the ground and went and got it.”

Chase got another one to tie the game late. Although Burrow was under siege for much of the game—his old friend from Ohio State, Nick Bosa, sacked him twice and pressured him four more times—he hung in and hung in like great quarterbacks do. Burrow will be special, and for a long time. The fourth quarter, over and over, proved that. As Shanahan told me post-game, “We didn’t want Burrow to have the ball at the end of the fourth quarter, or at the end of overtime. He’s just too dangerous.”

“The Bengals,” said Kittle, “are pretty good at football now.”

But the 49ers had a hot quarterback of their own. Who thought San Francisco would be on a 4-1 run this late in the season, and the quarterback leading the Niners to scoring 29 points a game in this hot run would be the embattled Garoppolo? He’s kept young phenom Trey Lance on the bench for 63 days—that’s how long it’s been since Lance threw a pass—and Garoppolo showed why in the overtime period Sunday. He was six for six for 73 yards and the decisive Brandon Aiyuk touchdown.

I’m told the Niners have not made up their minds, at all, about how to handle their quarterback situation in 2022 and beyond. They shouldn’t be. How do you know how Garoppolo will play down the stretch, and into a playoff run if that’s the fate of this season? I’m also told the Niners have been impressed, with Garoppolo’s career on the line, with how he’s handled this weird year, with Lance being the third pick in the draft and with Garoppolo expected to just handle things like a pro. He has.

“Jimmy’s one of my favorite people that I’ve ever coached,” Shanahan said. “He’s a hell of a dude. He’s not trying to hide anything. I also don’t want to downplay it and say this whole situation is just not a big deal. It’s a huge deal. Really hard on him. But he came in with the right mindset all the way back in OTAs. He hasn’t gotten sideways at all through any of it. No matter what he hears, he’s been the exact same guy I’ve known the four years prior, and that’s given us a chance to fight through this year. It’s given us the chance to be at where we’re at right now.”

San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. (Getty Images)

If you do a balance sheet of both teams, they’re pretty close. The Cincinnati special teams killed them Sunday, the way the Niners’ kicking game killed them last week on the fake-punt run for a touchdown in Seattle. The Bengals have a deep defensive front (assuming Trey Hendrickson’s back injury is fleeting, as it seemed Sunday night), but the Niners have the resurgent Bosa on a deep front too. Both secondaries are suspect. Both lines can be penetrated. As for the skill positions, give me Burrow over Garoppolo, give me Joe Mixon over the Niners’ backfield (though I do love Elijah Mitchell, due back next week if his concussion symptoms abate), and give me the Cincinnati receivers—though Deebo Samuel and Aiyuk are legitimate explosive players. The Bengals are just deeper.

Maybe that leaves Kittle over the underrated C.J. Uzomah. Kittle (last two games: 22 catches, 332 yards, three TDs) has a big edge there, as he showed Sunday. One catch that went unnoticed was particularly impressive, I thought. On third-and-five from the Cincinnati 21-yard line late in OT, Kittle and Samuel ran twin incuts designed to get the first down. Garoppolo looked at Kittle instantly, and Kittle got into a defensive, almost-fetal position against the Bengals DB, and Garoppolo hit him for a first down. “Jimmy gave me a perfect ball where I could slide, and avoid the big hit from the safety,” Kittle said.

Then Aiyuk scored and the Niners could breathe. Looking at each team’s fate down the stretch:

  • San Francisco has Atlanta and Houston at home, Tennessee and the Rams on the road. The Niners are very likely in if they go 3-1, and on the edge of a cliff if they go 2-2.
  • Cincinnati has the more challenging slate: at Denver, Baltimore, Kansas City, at Cleveland.

No one knows, which is good for the game. You don’t want to know who’s winning every game when you wake up Sunday morning, do you?

“It’s way more fun,” Kittle said, “when you’re playing playoff games in December. Don’t you love it? The game’s more fun, right?”

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft CB Rankings: Devon Witherspoon highlights loaded draft class


The 2023 NFL Draft is growing nearer, with just weeks remaining until teams make selections that could alter the future of their franchise forever.

A solid secondary is crucial to any team’s defensive prowess, and for the teams looking to tighten up in coverage, this year’s draft is the one to do so.

The 2023 NFL Draft cornerback class is an incredibly deep one, but which corner will be first off the board? Chris Simms unveiled his 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback rankings this week on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast, posting Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon at the top of his list of corners in this year’s crop.

But trailing Witherspoon very closely are four other potential NFL superstars, with Simms ranking Michigan’s DJ Turner at No. 2, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez at No. 3, Maryland’s Deonte Banks at No. 4 and Georgia’s Kelee Ringo at No. 5.

The 2023 NFL Draft will begin on Thursday, April 27, and end on Saturday, April 29. The first round will take place on Thursday with rounds two and three airing on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday. Click here for Simms’ quarterback rankings,and here for his list of top wide receivers.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Simms’ Top Five CB prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Tier One

1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

2. DJ Turner, Michigan

3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

Tier Two

4. Deonte Banks, Maryland

Tier Three

5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

RELATED: 2023 NFL Draft order: Complete list of every pick from Round 1 through Round 7

Simms Breaks Down 2023 Draft CB Rankings

The following are highlights from Simms’ CB draft rankings. For Simms’ in-depth analysis, read below for a breakdown on each prospect and be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

No. 1: Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

What Simms said: “This guy is must-see TV. He’s up there with one of the most twitchy, sudden people I’ve ever seen in my life to the point where when he takes off, you’re like, ‘Wait, is that real? Did he really get to full speed in half a step?’ … Bump or off, both are phenomenol —  it’s rare to have that. He’s got very good play strength for a guy that’s 5’11” and a half at 181 lbs. He doesn’t know that, he thinks he’s 220 … It’s efficient and easy. He’s sudden and can see the ability to accelerate whether it’s downhill or sticking the foot in the ground and changing direction. As compared to my No. 2 and No. 3 guy, he might be a hair tighter in his hips, but his twitchiness and explosion and acceleration … you just start to go, ‘What does this guy not have, besides the fact that he’s not 6’2” or over 200 lbs.’ He’s phenomenol.”

No. 2: DJ Turner, Michigan

What Simms said: “To me, (DJ Turner is) the most technically sound corner in the draft. There’s nobody better at technique. Like Witherspoon, the ability to mirror receivers at the line of scrimmage, the quick feet, it’s phenomenol. His hips are better than Witherspoon … His ability to flip those hips, turn and break on the ball, it’s right up there. It’s actually more smooth hip-wise than it is for Devon Witherspoon … What more can you say about the guy? Start-stop ability, amazing. Make-up speed, amazing. Other than Witherspoon, I think he’s put in the second-most tough spots out of anybody I’ve watched in this. He plays man-to-man, in your face a ton against big-time receivers. He’s awesome defending double moves. He could be the best nickel or outside guy, and he’s also the fastest guy in the draft. He’s got it all.”

No. 3: Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

What Simms said: “There’s not much to pick apart here … He’s got a little more size and meat on his bones. The Tee Higgins of the world, the bigger receivers of the world, they’re gonna have a harder time pushing him around and doing that stuff. He’s got incredible ball skills … He looks prototype. He looks Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey-ish in his uniform …  He just wasn’t as edgy as the other guys … He’s gonna match up better with DeAndre Hopkins than the other two. But I don’t know if he’ll match up better with Jaylen Waddle or Ja’Marr Chase than the other two … But his technique is real. He’s a top-20 pick. You talk size, technique and straight speed, of course this guy is one of the top corners in the draft.” 

No. 4: Deonte Banks, Maryland

What Simms said: “He has more measurables like Gonzalez. 6 foot, 197 lbs., there’s a thickness to him and a power and strength element that certainly jumps out. Let alone, speed is Real Deal Holyfield … man-to-man, great legs, runs easy … He’s comfortable in his speed. He’s never panicked. He’s comfortable in going, ‘You have a step on me? That’s fine, I’m good,’ … But he’s also incredible, like Witherspoon and Turner, at getting on top of people when they try to run a go-route. No one can ever really get around him for the most part … He’s sticky as hell, he’s got very good feet, but he doesn’t know how to use his hands at all yet. So he’s not really that great at jamming people at the line of scrimmage, but he’s never not there … I thought his ability to play the ball and create PBUs in those 50/50 situations where the quarterback tries to throw the ball back shoulder and all that, he’s got a great feel and vision to be able to cover and see the throw at the same time that I was very impressed with.”

No. 5: Kelee Ringo, Georgia

What Simms said: “When you turn on the film, you go, ‘What? This guy’s a corner, he’s not a safety?’ Because he has a prototype safety vibe … Against the bigger, straight-liner guys, nobody’s gonna push this dude around. That’s certainly not going to be an issue, that along with the straight speed. Hey, the change of direction stuff is not beautiful. He’s a little heavy-footed because he’s a bigger guy … but it’s not bad … When he opens up, he can really go; obviously with a 4.36 second 40 time … He’s very smooth as far as an athlete overall.” 

For more preview content of the 2023 NFL Draft, stay tuned to Chris Simms UnbuttonedProFootballTalk and NBC Sports EDGE for all the latest updates, player analysis and mock drafts.

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings: The top QBs, WRs, RBs, and more ahead of draft weekend


The 2023 NFL Draft takes place on Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here for the full first-round draft order to find out when your team is picking.

Ahead of this year’s draft, Chris Simms has already started analyzing the top prospects by position on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast. So far, Simms has revealed his highly anticipated list of the top 5 quarterback prospects and wide receivers. See below to find out who made the top 5 names for each position and be sure to check back for updates!

Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL Draft as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings:

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings:

  1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
  2. Bryce Young, Alabama
  3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  4. Anthony Richardson, Florida
  5. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA and Will Levis, Kentucky

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings:

  1. Zay Flowers, Boston College
  2. Jaxon Smith-Njibga, Ohio State
  3. Quentin Jonston, TCU
  4. Michael Wilson, Stanford
  5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Chris Simms 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

  1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
  2. DJ Turner, Michigan
  3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
  4. Deonte Banks, Maryland
  5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

How can I watch the 2023 NFL Draft live?

ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network will air all seven rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.

What time does the NFL Draft start?

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will get underway on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds two and three will commence Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with Saturday’s final rounds at 12 p.m.

Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Season and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!