Vikings’ Loss in Cincy Was Backbreaking for One Reason

QB Regrets Seething
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) drops back to throw in the fourth quarter of a Week 15 NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Bengals won 27-24 in overtime. © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Will the Minnesota Vikings still make the playoffs in 2023? Probably.

The club’s 6-3 conference record in the NFC makes upcoming Wildcard jostling + tiebreakers quite advantageous for the purple team — even after a melancholic loss at the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15.

Vikings’ Loss in Cincy Was Backbreaking for One Reason

But that doesn’t erase the depressing nature of transgressions in Cincinnati. Minnesota’s 27-24 loss at the Bengals was backbreaking for one reason — Kevin O’Connell’s team had a two-score lead in the 4th Quarter and lost anyway.

Loss in Cincy
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports.

Had the Bengals jumped all over the Vikings. one might’ve thought, “A hot home team is hungry today; it makes sense that they’re hitting on all cylinders. Such is life.”

Yet, that didn’t happen. Despite two bizarre turnovers, Minnesota hung tough via time of possession and even owned a 17-3 lead with 15 minutes to go. Just as fans bought into the Top 5 title of Brian Flores’ defense, the unit looked like the No. 25 defense, not No. 5, at the game’s most crucial hinge. For a backup quarterback, Nick Mullens did his damnedest, while Ty Chandler produced the most dominant and consistent game by a Vikings running back since 2021.

Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) dives for the end zone as Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt (57) and Cincinnati Bengals safety Dax Hill (23) defend in the first quarter of a Week 15 NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The defense just wasn’t in the mood to close out the game.

Aside from a win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7, nothing wonderful happens at the same time for the 2023 Vikings. When the defense strangles opponents, the offense can only manage three points. In flashes where the offense cooks, the defense rolls over and allows Jake Browning to effortlessly march up and down the field to erase a 14-point, late-game lead.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) scrambles before throwing a deep pass to wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) in overtime of the NFL Week 15 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at PayCor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. The Bengals won on an overtime field goal. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

It’s one thing to be dominated by a team as the road opponent and live to fight another day. Coughing away a 17-3 advantage to a Joe Burrow-less Bengals club is demoralizing. The Vikings can’t win a game convincingly and rarely get their doors blown off. It’s always pins-and-needles madness, no matter the opponent.

Many will criticize O’Connell for back-to-back quarterback sneaks, which is fine. This is The Digital Age, and everyone has to call a person’s firing when they’re mad. Folks wanted Mullens benched after a second interception on Saturday. Folks wanted T.J. Hockenson benched two months ago after failing to haul in contested catches. Folks wanted O’Connell fired on Sunday. It never ends.

The same crowd would skewer O’Connell had he run the football on 4th and Inches if Ty Chander had been blown up in the backfield. “They only needed a few inches. Why not just sneak it?!?” You would’ve heard that all Saturday evening.

Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Kevin O’Connell addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center on Wednesday, December 6th, 2023. The Vikings had a quarterback debate off the bye week in 2023, and O’Connell announced incumbent starter Joshua Dobbs would play in Week 14 at the Las Vegas Raiders.

O’Connell said after the game, “Very unfortunate. You come on the road, and you battle a team that’s playing really well right now. I felt like we let one slip away, but I think you’ve gotta credit the Bengals getting their offense going there in the second half, and we didn’t capitalize on our last opportunity offensively there.”

He’s correct. For some reason, letting a 14-point lead slip away is a thousand times more disheartening than losing, say, 24-10.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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