Cornerback Mike Hilton and teammates celebrate another opportunistic turnover. (Photo Credit Ryan Meyer/Bengals.com)
By Dr. John Huang
(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – After two consecutive weeks in orbit, Jake Browning finally returned to earth. Fortunately for Bengals fans, “Jake Mania” didn’t stay grounded for long. Trailing by two touchdowns heading into the fourth quarter, Cincinnati mounted a furious comeback, tying the game in regulation before Evan McPherson’s 29-yard field goal with 3:11 left on the clock won it in overtime.
The 27 – 24 victory capped off one of the most exciting fourth quarters in Paycor Stadium history as 66,376 revelers looked on in disbelief. With the improbable win, Cincinnati improves to 8 – 6 on the year and remains squarely in the playoff hunt. Upcoming road games at Pittsburgh and Kansas City and a home finale against Cleveland are all that’s left standing in the way of another postseason appearance.
“Jake’s just so steady,” Coach Zac Taylor said when asked why his quarterback has been able to deliver in such big moments. “He doesn’t get rattled by a negative play. He doesn’t overreact to it…He throws a pick—and he came right back the next drive and throws a touchdown. That’s what you want to see from your quarterback—a guy who doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s able to move on.”
For the game, Browning completed 29-of-42 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns. After a rather pedestrian start, the Folsom, California, native naturally saved his best for last. With Minnesota leading 17– 3 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Browning hit Tee Higgins with a 13-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the endzone, cutting the lead to 17 – 10.
Then with 7:46 left in the frantic fourth, Joe Mixon’s second-effort, fourth-and-one plunge over the goal line tied the game at 17. When Minnesota responded on their next possession with a five-play drive to take a 24 – 17 lead with just under four minutes left in regulation, many thought the game had slipped away.
But fear not. Back came Browning, this time with a 21-yard floater to Higgins who managed to out jump the defender at the one-yard line while simultaneously catching the ball, twisting his body, and somehow extending the ball over the goal line for another game-tying touchdown.
In the overtime period, Browning hit Tyler Boyd for a spectacular 44-yard catch and run that set up McPherson’s game winning heroics.
Despite all the aforementioned offensive fireworks, it was Cincinnati’s defense that came to the rescue in this one. Losing their star nose tackle DJ Reader on the second snap of the game, the rest of Lou Anarumo’s unit came up big time and time again. If not necessarily consistent, Cincinnati’s defense has certainly been opportunistic.
Cornerback Mike Hilton and defensive tackle B.J. Hill both made timely interceptions to thwart potential scoring drives. Germaine Pratt, Myles Murphy, and Trey Hendrickson all had critical sacks. But it was the two third-and-inches and fourth-and-inches stops in overtime by the middle of the Bengals defensive line that pulled this game out of the loss column.
It was just another example of a “bend but don’t break” pattern. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s frustrating watching the team give up huge chunks of yardage on long drives. But so far this year, the Bengals defense has always been able to come up with the critical turnover or fourth-down stop come crunch time. Today was no different.
“The end of the game is winning time,” acknowledged Hilton. “We’ll find the plays to get off the field and get turnovers. When the time comes, we’ll make those plays.”
With weapons like Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, Higgins, and Boyd on the offensive side of the ball, it’s easy for everyone to forget about the defense. The unit that has garnered 23 takeaways still doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves.
“Oh no,” Hilton agreed, when asked about being handed the respect card. “We haven’t over these last couple of years. But we like it that way. Just turn on our tape and see how physical we are and how opportunistic we are. We’re a tough defense to move the ball on.”
Cincinnati has now won the turnover battle in nine of its 14 games this season, collecting a 7 – 2 record in those contests. The Bengals have won each of their last 10 games in which the defense had multiple interceptions. The win today also marks the Bengals’ tenth consecutive victory in the month of December dating back to the 2021 campaign.
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently covers the Bengals’ beat for Sports View America. He is the author/coauthor of five books—Cut To The Chase, Kentucky Passion, From The Rafters Of Rupp, and Serving Up Winners. Check out his just-released new book, They Call Me Mr. Secretary, here https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CMPN9W8P