The Bengals overcame a couple of questionable calls, a few big injuries, and a talented opponent to stay in the playoff race.
The hard-fought victory taught us a lot about a team with a ton of character and determination. Here are some of the biggest lessons:
Jake Browning can hang with the big boys
After a rough first half in which he threw for just 81 yards, Browning came out in the third quarter and threw a bad interception with 9:15 left in the third quarter.
But then he finally loosened up and got going, going 6/6 for 56 yards on the next drive to end the quarter and set up a field goal at the start of the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter and overtime, Browning threw for 184 yards against one of the best defenses in the league.
Whatever you think about Browning’s arm, there’s no denying he has the guts and moxie to go out there and play his game against anyone.
Zac Taylor will forever be cute
One would think that after a disastrous (and rather untimely) attempt at a trick play against the Indianapolis Colts that resulted in a Tyler Boyd interception last week, the Bengals head coach would be a little hesitant to try one again.
But there he was, on third and one, this time attempting to pad Tanner Hudson’s passing stats.
And if you think he’s done, then you don’t know Zac. The man will be cute, and you will like it. (Honestly, it’s hard to get mad with how he has his team playing overall.)
Tee Higgins is still physically capable of dominating
The second fourth-quarter touchdown by Higgins, the one that brought the Bengals all the way back, was one of the greatest displays of athleticism in recent memory. That’s who Tee Higgins is as a player. We just haven’t seen much of it lately.
It might have been the absence of Ja’Marr Chase that put Higgins into an alpha mode.
“Time to be the alpha” Tee Higgins pic.twitter.com/3lUqYNOJwx— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 16, 2023
Or it just might be that the season is winding down, and Higgins is locked in, ready to make another run.
If Chase has to miss time, don’t be surprised to see Higgins carry the offense in his place.
The defense might be able to survive without D.J. Reader
Obviously, losing Reader is a massive blow, especially to the run defense.
But against the Vikings, the Bengals defense was able to stuff the run after Reader left with a quad injury.
In overtime, Minnesota ran three times... for one total yard. Two of those came on third and one and fourth and one, with the Vikings just outside field goal range. Even without Reader, the team came together and closed off the middle of the line to help set up the winning field goal.
The Nick Mullens QB sneak on 4th-and-inches goes nowhere!— The Comeback (@thecomeback) December 16, 2023
MASSIVE stop for the Bengals in OT.pic.twitter.com/uyApJFPNWJ
B.J. Hill is a ballhawk (kinda)
In back-to-back weeks, Hill has accounted for some of the most unconventional interceptions you’ll ever see.
I thought BJ Hill recovered a fumble but it was an interception and listen to Pratt telling him "YOU MIGHT BE HIM" after giving a ball to someone in the stands #Bengals #WhoDey pic.twitter.com/sd3auygGPD— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) December 17, 2023
Those are, by the way, his first two career regular-season interceptions. His first overall interception was, of course, in the 2022 AFC Championship Game, when he picked off Patrick Mahomes.
While it’s not likely we’ll see Hill pull off those kinds of plays on a regular basis. His interceptions are more of a reflection of the attitude of Lou Anarumo’s squad; the entire defense is always looking to strip or pick the ball, regardless of the situation, and boy does it keep paying off in a major way.
It’s guys like Hill, Mike Hilton, Trey Hendrickson, and Germaine Pratt making huge plays at the most critical times that are keeping this defense in games and helping this team overcome adversity like losing Reader so early.
Can they keep it up? We’ll see when the Bengals hit the road to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers next Saturday in search of their first AFC North win of the season.