‘Margin for error is really small’ as Bengals chase playoff berth

Cincinnati has four games remaining. including Sunday at Denver

CINCINNATI -- Jessie Bates said he still hasn’t gotten over the interception he dropped late in the fourth quarter of the Cincinnati Bengals’ overtime loss to San Francisco.

With 22 seconds left, Bates stepped in front of Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass intended for Brandon Aiyuk around the Cincinnati 38-yard line, and the ball slipped off the safety’s fingers as he ran through it with what seemed to be an open field in front of him.

The 49ers ended up trying but missing a 47-yard field goal at the gun, and the game went to overtime, but Bates can’t help but wonder what might have been if he got the pick.

“People say it’s a 24-hour rule, but I still haven’t gotten over it kind of,” Bates said. “I’ve probably seen the play probably 100 times now. It’s very frustrating honestly. I did everything right to make that play. ... I didn’t catch it first. It’s very frustrating at a very critical part of the game. But we got four opportunities left and I think I’ll have a couple more of those opportunities to make and I’ll make them.”

Bates isn’t sure if he could have run back the interception if he made it, but Joe Burrow and the offense at least would have gotten another opportunity to win the game in regulation.

“Only God knows, but yeah, I think I would have had a chance,” Bates said. “The only guy there was (George) Kittle and Vonn (Bell), but like I said, you never know.”

Instead, the 49ers out-did the Bengals in overtime, answering their field goal with a touchdown to win it. Bates initially was credited with pushing Aiyuk out of bounds at the 1-yard line on the final play, but he was ruled to have reached the pile-on for the touchdown on review.

The Bengals (7-6) play at Denver (7-6) on Sunday riding a two-game skid, and their playoff chances diminish with every missed opportunity.

“It’s just the margin for error is really small at this point,” Bates said. “You can’t play from behind when it gets to this time of the year. Teams take care of the ball at this point, and they just try to run the ball. If you look at the Broncos, I think last game they ran the ball I think 28 times straight. So when you’re talking about managing the game, field position and stuff like that, that really comes into play so we’re aware of it.”

Bates said facing tight end George Kittle last week prepares the defense for a similar type of player in Broncos tight end Noah Fant. The Bengals struggled to contain Kittle, and he finished with 151 yards and one touchdown on 13 catches.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater utilizes Fant well, too. He is the second most targeted player on the team (71 targets) and has a team-leading 53 catches to go along with 475 yards and three touchdowns.

“Fant is kind of similar to George Kittle,” Bates said. “They do a lot of thigs similar with Fant. Their offense kind of goes through it every week. Trying to see what the offense is trying to hit. The last week it was the tight end, this week it’s the tight end. We’ll be prepared for it.”

The Bengals defense will be without linebacker Logan Wilson (shoulder) again this week and could be without cornerback Chidobe Awuzie as well, as he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday and would need two negative tests to be available. Cincinnati also put right tackle Riley Reiff on injured reserve with an ankle injury Thursday.

On the bright side, defensive end Trey Hendrickson was doing full-speed drills Thursday and is expected to play after injuring his back late in the second quarter Sunday.

This could be the week cornerback Trae Waynes is activated, after he returned to practice last week off injured reserve but wasn’t yet added to the active roster. He has another week before the Bengals would need to make that decision, but with Awuzie likely out and Waynes seemingly ready, it seems likely they will call upon him.

“I’m very excited,” Bates said of Waynes potentially playing. “I know Trae is as well. I don’t think he’s played since the Packers game. Which seems like it’s been forever ago. He looked healthy last week to play and hopefully he can get in and be productive.

“He’s just someone who is a veteran, someone that has crazy makeup speed. It sucks that he hasn’t been able to show what he can do the last two years here, but I’m confident in Trae being that lockdown corner like Eli (Apple) or Chido. The standard in that room is very high, and whoever we put out there is going to have success.”


Bengals at Broncos, 4:05 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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