Hole-y mole-y. Is it safe to celebrate yet? I know the game ended hours ago, but it still feels like the Vikings are about to embark on another game-sealing or game-finishing drive.
What an incredible game. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted. There were shades of Week Four’s debacle against the Titans – at least, in the first half. In the second half, there were shades of last week’s beatdown of the Colts. In the end, the Bengals walked off the field 27 - 24 victors thanks to Evan McPherson’s second-career, overtime game-winning field goal against the Vikings…in two tries (shout out to Week One of 2021).
There was a little something for everyone in this game. There was the massive second-half comeback. There was the Tee Higgins redemption arc. There was resilience in the face of an onslaught of injuries. There were big plays all over the place. There was frustration and elation – all in equal measure.
With the win, the Bengals become the first of the gaggle of 7 - 6 teams to reach the 8-win mark. It means…well, it means the Bengals have one more win than they did yesterday. It means they're still alive. But by no means are the Bengals in the clear. With games against Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Cleveland remaining, the rest of their schedule is a gauntlet, but with the win today against Minnesota, the Bengals kept stride in the AFC.
This was a classic, true team win. The Bengals needed contributions from every phase (offense, defense & special teams) to come away with the win. Of course, every phase had its share of responsibility for spotting the Vikings a 17 - 3 lead in the third quarter, but we can let bygones be bygones. Winning cures all, amirite?
It certainly didn’t look as crisp or easy as it’s looked over the past two weeks, but the Bengals offense under Jake Browning continues to move the ball, even against elite defensive competition. The Vikings had not allowed a touchdown since Week 11 versus Denver; the Bengals had three in the fourth quarter alone – and that was the difference in this game.
On defense, the Bengals continued to have their struggles stopping the run (which wasn’t helped by the fact that star nose tackle D.J. Reader left the game with what appears to be a serious injury), and allowed Nick Mullens, the Vikings fourth starting QB this season, to cross the 300-yards passing mark. Fortunately, Mullens was determined to keep the Bengals in striking distance with some astonishingly bad decision-making.
Facing a 3rd & 9 from the Cincinnati 14-yard line, Mullens heaved an ill-advised pass toward Justin Jefferson into double-coverage, which Mike Hilton gladly intercepted. It took three points minimum off the board – and Mullens wasn’t done. On the very next Vikings possession, with the ball at the Cincinnati 22-yard line and facing a 3rd & 7, Mullens attempted to throw a pass as B.J. Hill was dragging him to the ground – a pass in which then hit Hill in the facemask and fell onto his chest and into his hands. That’s three more points minimum off the board, lickety-split.
It could have been worse too. An interception by Germaine Pratt was returned for a touchdown, only to be called back by an offside penalty by Trey Hendrickson. It would have given the Bengals a 24 - 17 lead – instead, Mullens took the mulligan and drove the length of the field to give the Vikings a 24 - 17 lead. But happily, Mullens wasn’t done with the goof-ups.
In overtime, with the Bengals having already punted and Vikings needing only a field goal to walk out of Paycor Stadium with an overtime win, Mullens and the Vikings offense faced a 3rd & 1 from the Cincinnati 42-yard line. With just one yard to go, the Vikings called upon their fourth-string QB with back-to-back QB sneaks. Mullens was stuffed both times (and on the second time, he appeared to mishandle the snap, which caused him to lose momentum and actually lose yardage). The Bengals had one more chance – and they didn’t waste it.
When McPherson’s kick sailed through the uprights, all of Cincinnati could finally exhale. A game that had looked hopeless at times had turned into one of the most promising wins for the Bengals all year. It’s the Bengals third win in a row, their second overtime win, and the first big comeback under Browning's belt. And despite the myriad of injuries the Bengals suffered, they never, ever quit.
The job isn’t done – not even close. Browning has done a pretty good Joey B impersonation over the last three weeks, but he looked like an overmatched backup in his first start against Pittsburgh. He'll get his chance for revenge in seven days. Kansas City, a week later, remains scary as hell, even with their struggles on offense. With Patrick Mahomes around, they can never be taken lightly. And Cleveland will almost certainly be playing for their postseason lives in Week 18. Fortunately, the Bengals have been playing for their postseason lives since Burrow went down. The Bengals aren’t just surviving down the stretch – they're thriving.