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The Bengals wanted to settle an old score Sunday. But the new one didn't look much different: The San Francisco 49ers continued to have Cincinnati's number.

The final count at Riverfront Stadium was 20-17, San Francisco, as the team that spent the 1980s beating the clock won its first overtime game in 10 years.It may have been San Francisco's 20-16 decision over the Bengals in the last minute of the Super Bowl 23 months ago that gave the 49ers the title "Team of the Decade."

But their 27-26 victory with no time left at Riverfront three years ago better indicates the frustration that gnawed at the Bengals Sunday in their locker room.

"I hate that team," said strong safety David Fulcher. "I get tired of playing that team and coming up a half-inch short. We're a little (expletive) that everyone puts them on a pedestal."

The Niners rose another notch to 12-1, while the Bengals fell to 7-6 and into another three-way scrum for first place in the AFC Central Division. But San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana was once again forced to conspire with time and Jerry Rice. Then Mike Cofer had to kick two 23-yard field goals - one with 57 seconds left to force overtime and another 6:12 into overtime - to make sure the Niners won their 19th straight road game.

As expected, there were as many postgame emotions as there were turning points of such a riveting game:

- Bengals coach Sam Wyche, moments after saying his team didn't have to put its head down while walking away from this game, did exactly that as he stalked out of his press conference and threw a soda can in the trash in response to a question about his thoughts when the Niners won the overtime coin toss.

- Tim Krumrie, the Bengals noseguard who broke his leg early in Super Bowl XXIII, was dejected about the outcome, but he seemed ecstatic about playing well for an entire game that could be called a classic.

"This was my Super Bowl," said Krumrie, after getting his first sack of the season in an effort by the NFL's third worst defense that gave its team every opportunity to win against the league's second best offense. "We're down. We lost a big game. But it's a confidence builder. We proved we can shut people down at times."

- Safety Solomon Wilcots, who was flagged on a Niner punt for a critical holding call that preceded the tying field goal, was bitter.

"They play like they say, `We're the world champions champions, and we can do anything we want,"' Wilcots said. "The refs must figure that it's the 49ers, so they must be a good team. So they say, `That wasn't holding,' or `That wasn't anything.' "

"The biggest difference between us is that we didn't have the finishing touch," Esiason said. "That's the mark of a world champion, as opposed to a team that's mired and slugging its way through this season. I don't think they're slugging their way through. They seem to win no matter what happens."