Vikings blow 17-3 lead, lose at Cincinnati 27-24 in overtime to fall to 7-7

Nick Mullens #12 of the Minnesota Vikings calls a play in the first quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium on December 16, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  ((Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images))

The Minnesota Vikings fell to 7-7 on the season after a 27-24 loss in overtime at Cincinnati on Saturday, and it was one that was preventable in many ways for Kevin O’Connell.

The Vikings defense went 11 straight quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown. The Bengals ended that streak with 21 fourth quarter points to force overtime, and there are two play calls in that extra session that O’Connell will want back. Near midfield, he called for consecutive quarterback sneaks from Nick Mullens. Both failed, and the Bengals turned into a 29-yard game-winning field goal from Evan McPherson.

"I felt like we let one slip away. Just didn’t capitalize on our last opportunity offensively in overtime. Just a couple inches to get, thought we had a good look at it on third down, officials spotted it otherwise," O'Connell said after the loss. "We’ve got to be able to get a little bit more than that in that moment."

The Vikings had a 17-3 lead in the third quarter. Mullens was 26-of-33 passing for 303 yards, a pair of first half interceptions and two touchdowns to Jordan Addison, who had six catches for 111 yards. Ty Chandler, in his first start at running back, had 23 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown. Justin Jefferson had seven catches for 84 yards. The Vikings had 424 total yards, averaged 6.3 yards per play and still lost.

With a chance to move the ball for a game-winning field goal, O'Connell's call was for a pair of Mullens’ sneaks. Both came with receiver Brandon Powell trying to push him forward, instead of a tight end or C.J. Ham. And Chandler didn’t get a touch after a career day. O'Connell said he didn't want to hand the ball off, and didn't want to change personnel to allow the Bengals to get into a goal line defense.

"I think any time you’re inside of a couple feet, we were looking at about four or five inches there. Don’t really want to have to turn around and extend the ball and hand off another ball. I trust our guys in that moment to execute. I thought we could execute with some interior push there, but based upon how it was spotted, they got the stop," O'Connell said.

Mullens agreed with his coach and thought he got the first down on the first sneak.

"Yeah I did, but there’s also a lot of carnage I guess you could say, like right there in the middle so you’re not exactly sure. I felt like it was a pretty good attempt, but whatever happens you have to a find a way to execute," Mullens said. "You’ve got to find a way to get it done, this stinks for sure."

The Vikings had no answer defensively for Bengals' receiver Tee Higgins, who had four catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns. His first score came from 14 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter, beating Cam Bynum in coverage, and got Cincinnati within 17-10. His second score came with 39 seconds to play, beating Akayleb Evans in coverage while Mekhi Blackmon stood and watched. He made a leaping grab at the 1-yard line, then reached the ball over the pylon to tie the game 24-24. Ja’Marr Chase had four catches for 64 yards before leaving with a shoulder injury.

Joe Mixon also had 10 carries for 47 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown that tied the game 17-17 with 7:46 to play. It came on 4th-and-1, and Ivan Pace Jr. had him stopped initially but couldn’t finish the tackle. Former Viking Jake Browning went 29-of-42 for 324 yards, two scores and one interception for the Bengals with Joe Burrow out for the season.

The Vikings have three division games left, two against the Detroit Lions, with a chance to make the NFC Playoffs. But if that’s going to happen, O’Connell will have to change his approach when the Vikings have a lead.