Trailing 17-3 late in the third quarter behind an offense that had struggled to move the ball, the Bengals needed Jake Browning to be nearly perfect — and he was.
Browning led Cincinnati to three fourth-quarter touchdowns and directed the winning drive in overtime in his latest extraordinary performance since taking over for the injured Joe Burrow, and the Bengals beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-24 on Saturday to improve their position in the playoff race.
Browning won his third straight start and improved to 3-1 since Burrow suffered a season-ending right wrist injury in a loss at Baltimore. This time, he threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime, becoming the fourth QB in the past two years to throw for at least that many yards and two or more scores after three quarters.
“I feel like I need a beer,” said Browning, who beat a team that cut him from its practice squad two years ago.
The Vikings let Browning go from their practice squad in 2021. The Bengals picked him up for their practice squad, and he won the job as Burrow’s backup before this season.
“I think right after we made the field goal and won the game, I screamed at the camera and said, ‘They never should have cut me,’” Browning said.
In fact, Browning played so well that he’s being drug tested, according to Browning himself via Instagram post.
Browning wasn’t Cincinnati’s only hero on Saturday. Tee Higgins went high over a Vikings defender to catch a 16-yard pass from Browning and make a twisting move at the goal line for the tying touchdown with 39 seconds left in regulation.
Then, in overtime, a scrambling Browning found Tyler Boyd for a 44-yard completion that got Cincinnati (8-6) into Vikings territory and set up Evan McPherson’s game-ending 29-yard field goal.
“Jake’s just so steady, you know?” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He really is. He doesn’t get rattled by a negative play. He doesn’t overreact to it.”
Browning was 29 for 42 for 324 yards with two touchdowns — both to Higgins — and an interception. He completed passes to 11 receivers and has a 110.9 passer rating in his four starts..
Nick Mullens, the fourth quarterback to start a game this season for the Vikings, was solid in defeat. He passed for 303 yards with two TDs but threw two interceptions.
“An absolute grind of a football game,” Mullens said. “But those are the types of games you want to be in.”
Minnesota (7-7) has lost three of four, the only win in that stretch a 3-0 decision at Las Vegas that led to Joshua Dobbs being benched in favor of Mullens, who had more success finding the Vikings’ playmakers.
Jordan Addison had six catches for 111 yards and two TDs. Justin Jefferson had seven receptions for 84 yards in his first full game since returning from a hamstring injury. He suffered a chest injury in the Raiders game.
“Nick did a fantastic job today,” Jefferson said. “Especially with just a week of preparation of him being the starting quarterback. I feel like he came out today with confidence.”
Backup Ty Chandler had a career-high 132 rushing yards and a touchdown for Minnesota. Chandler got the start in place of Alexander Mattison, who has a sprained ankle.
With five teams a half-game behind them in the NFC standings, the Vikings could be out of playoff position by the end of the weekend.
“Very unfortunate,” Minnesota coach Kevin O’Connell said. “Come on the road and battle a team that’s playing well right now. Felt like we let one slip away.”
Browning took over the game late in the third quarter, throwing seven straight completions during a 75-yard drive for the Bengals’ first touchdown, a 13-yard strike to Higgins.
On the Bengals’ next possession, Browning hit Ja’Marr Chase for 24 yards to convert a third-and-21. Joe Mixon’s 1-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal tied the game at 17-all.
Minnesota pushed back in front on Addison’s second TD catch of the game before Browning and Higgins found a way to tie it.
Higgins finished with four catches for 61 yards.
“All I can say is, we always count on Tee Higgins,” Taylor said. “Tee stepped up big for us, and those were two big touchdowns that he scored for us at the end of the game, and he also made some bigger catches across the middle at other points.”
Bengals: DT DJ Reader suffered an injury to his right leg early in the game and was declared out. … CB DJ Ivey left in the first quarter with a knee injury. … Chase went out with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter.
Vikings: Host Detroit on Sunday, Dec. 24.
Bengals: At Pittsburgh next Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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