SANTA CLARA, Calif. — — Joe Burrow set the tone early when he fumbled two sack attempts, got out and converted a third pass that extended Cincinnati’s opening touchdown.
After being hampered early in the season by an injured hog, Burrow has looked like his old self again, and that means the Bengals look like contenders.
Burrow threw three touchdown passes, Cincinnati intercepted Brock Purdy on back-to-back passes in the second half and the Bengals beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-17 on Sunday for their fourth win in five games.
“All you have to say now is ‘Welcome back, Burrow.’ Welcome back,” receiver Ja’Marr Chase said.
Burrow completed 19 straight passes at one point for the Bengals and went 28 for 32 for 283 yards against a 49ers (5-3) defense that has struggled uncharacteristically in recent weeks.
But what he was able to do with his legs was almost as important for the Bengals (4-3) after being severely limited before the bye week by his preseason calf injury.
There was a breakaway act on the opener which led to Tee Higgins finishing. There was a point where he heard the QB draw on third-and-9 and converted it with a 10-yard run. There was a 20-yard scramble to set up a field goal in the third quarter. There was an opportunity to play from under center, which opened up opportunities for runs and passing plays.
“I worked really hard on it all offseason and for four or five weeks I didn’t really get to show it,” Burrow said. “So when you see that hard work pay off, it’s exciting.”
Burrow helped Cincinnati take control of the game early in the fourth quarter after Logan Wilson intercepted a Purdy pass. The Bengals struck on the next play when Burrow fired a 17-yard TD pass to Chase to make it 24-10.
Purdy had thrown an interception to Jermaine Pratt on the previous snap in the red zone, giving him five interceptions in the past three games after having none in the first five.
Purdy, who played despite being in concussion protocol during the week, threw for 365 yards and had a TD pass to Christian McCaffrey on the drive after his back-to-back interceptions.
But Burrow answered with two long passes to Trenton Irwin and Chase and two first downs to set up a 5-yard run to Joe Mixon with 2:54 left for the Bengals.
“That’s what we know we’re capable of,” coach Zach Taylor after his team’s best offensive performance of the season.
Purdy lost on a trey Hendrickson sack to seal the loss for the 49ers, who have been held to 17 points or fewer in three straight games for the first time since Kyle Shanahan’s 2017 rookie season.
“It’s not about any coach or any side of the ball,” Shanahan said. “We haven’t scored over 20 points here in three weeks either. I think our defense needs to be better, our offense needs to do better, our team needs to do better.”
Burrow and the Bengals got off to a quick start as he connected on TD passes to Tyler Boyd and Andrei Josivas on the first two drives of the game to take a 14-7 lead.
Cincinnati had chances to add to its lead, but Evan McPherson missed a 50-yard field goal on third down and Irv Smith lost a fumble at the 49ers 5 late in the half to keep the score 14-10.
McCaffrey also scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter, giving him at least one TD in 17 straight games, including the playoffs. That tied the NFL record set by Lenny Moore in 1963-64.
McCaffrey’s fourth-quarter TD catch gave him at least one rush and toss in 14 games — one shy of Marshall Faulk’s NFL record.
Pratt and Wilson’s interceptions weren’t a surprise for the Bengals, as they combined for five this season for the most of any quarterback group in the NFL. Wilson’s 10 interceptions are four more than any other quarterback since entering the NFL in 2020.
“We wouldn’t trade them for anybody,” Taylor said. “There are a lot of good defensive duos in this league, we wouldn’t trade them for anyone.”
Bengals: Hendrickson (left ankle) left briefly in the first half but was able to return.
49ers: LT Trent Williams missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle.
Bengals: host Buffalo on Sunday night.
49ers: Bye week; visit Jacksonville on Nov. 12.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL