Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and defensive tackle DJ Reader both left the games with injuries of varying severity, but Cincinnati was able to rally from two deficits in the fourth quarter and make big plays to win its third straight game.
“It took everybody,” coach Zac Taylor said after the game. “We found a way to regain the momentum in the fourth quarter. That was as hard-fought a game as I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life. And our guys found a way at the end.”
Taylor did not have additional information on Chase after the game. The third-year player out of LSU was initially ruled questionable before he was eventually downgraded to out in overtime. He finished the game with four catches for 64 yards.
He appeared to favor his right shoulder after he made a 24-yard catch to extend a drive early in the fourth. He came to the sideline for a moment before he returned to the game. After a four-yard completion from quarterback Jake Browning to running back Joe Mixon with more than three minutes left in regulation, Chase exited the game.
With Chase out, Cincinnati leaned on Tee Higgins, who had two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including an improbable 21-yard touchdown with :39 left in regulation that helped tie things at 24-all ahead of overtime.
Higgins knew that he had to fill the void left by Chase, especially with Cincinnati needing a big play, and a win to remain in control of their playoff fate in what is a crowded AFC wild-card race.
“(Bengals assistant coach) Troy Walters came up to me and said, ‘It’s time to be the alpha,” Higgins said. “I was able to do that.”
Higgins scored two of the three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Bengals (8-6) offense found a spark in the fourth quarter. Browning threw for as many yards in the fourth quarter (140) as he did in the previous three quarters combined.
He acknowledged that he didn’t have a good first half and then proceeded to throw a bad interception at the beginning of the third quarter. But he finished 29-of-42 passing for 324 yards and two touchdowns and got revenge against his former team.
Browning went undrafted out of Washington in 2019 and was signed by the Vikings, who cut him in 2021. While downplaying any bad blood earlier in the week, Browning confirmed that this game meant more to him after the way Minnesota cut him. According to him, the Vikings never informed him that he was being cut until he got a call from his agent.
“I’ve been cut my fair share of times and that was probably the s—tiest one,” Browning said after the game, who added that the team has a new front office and coaching personnel and has great people still employed. “But that one felt good.
“I think right after we made the field goal to win the game, I screamed at the camera and said, ‘They never should have cut me.”
But it wasn’t all positive for the Bengals. Cincinnati fears that Reader, one of the building blocks of the franchise’s resurgence, is potentially done for the season after he suffered a right knee injury in the first quarter of Saturday’s game.
“I’ll get more information, but I don’t think it’s positive for DJ,” Taylor said after the game.
Reader was ruled out in the first quarter following a collision at the line of scrimmage. Shortly after Reader went down, Cincinnati’s medical staff called for a cart to take him off the field. He was ruled out for the remainder of the contest before the Vikings finished their offensive drive.
The veteran has been one of the most important players for Cincinnati’s defense in recent years. The eighth-year player out of Clemson signed with Cincinnati during 2020 free agency. His four-year deal worth $53 million was the first key acquisition for a Bengals team that finished the 2019 season with the NFL’s worst record.
Reader also suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury in 2020. In four years with the Bengals, he has started in all 43 of his appearances and has been one of the most consistent players during his tenure. Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou is one of the few players on the roster who has been with Cincinnati since 2019 and spoke about the impact Reader has made in his time with the club.
“Ever since he’s been here, the media sees it, the players see it, he makes a tremendous difference,” Tupou said. “It’s one of those things where the only way we live up to him as a group. Not every individual on our d-line can because he’s such a great player.”
Bengals rookie defensive back DJ Ivey was also knocked out of Saturday’s game with a left knee injury. The seventh-round pick was injured in the second quarter while trying to make a tackle on a punt return.