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Quick Hits: Bengals D-Line Dedicates Final Stand To DJ Reader; Another Big Tyler Boyd Catch With Playoff Ramifications; Jake Browning Bests a Hall-Of-Famer As He Closes Door On Vikes

WR Tee Higgins passes the ball to the ref during the Vikings-Bengals game in Week 15 of the 2023 season on December 16 at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
WR Tee Higgins passes the ball to the ref during the Vikings-Bengals game in Week 15 of the 2023 season on December 16 at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bengals left end Sam Hubbard, the Cincinnati Kid, had just seen one go down in Paycor Stadium lore and like the 66,376 that watched the 27-24 overtime win over the Vikings, he was trying to process all the heroics fit for a season-full of highlights shoehorned into the final 21:49 during their biggest fourth-quarter comeback since 2015.

"Unbelievable play by Tee (Higgins). I don't know how TB (Tyler Boyd) caught that ball. The rushing attack. The offensive line. Unbelievable," Hubbard said, still dressed in front of his locker. "It comes down to being resilient and effort and … Wow….Wow."


What about the stand by the middle of Hubbard's defensive line with six minutes left in overtime and the Vikings needing just inches on third and fourth down at the Bengals 42? Where the sure conversion would set up a sure winning field goal because Vikings kicker Greg Joseph needed only three more yards or so?

A defensive line that didn't have its heart-and-soul anchor DJ Reader after the Pro Bowl-worthy nose tackle was carted off on the second snap of the game with a quad injury?

"That's our leader. That's my OG. That's my mentor," said second-year tackle Zach Carter, who was over the center, instead, and was next to the ubiquitous B.J. Hill. "But we just had to keep playing. We won that for him."

Hill turned out to be Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens' worst nightmare on Saturday. Hill robbed the Vikes of another field goal, this one at the end of the half, when Mullens tried to throw it away as Hill was about to sack him. Except he threw it away into Hill's facemask and while Hill was on his back he made a juggling interception.

Then about two years later in the OT on third and fourth down, Hill said, "We knew what was coming. We knew it was a QB sneak. We knew it was coming."

Both times, 5-8, 181-pound wide receiver Brandon Powell tried to Brotherly Shove Mullens in the back for those inches. On fourth down, they went backward as the Bengals won the day.

"That's a grown man down. Third and fourth down and inches," Carter said. "No room, make room. That's what Coach tells us. 'No room, make room.' We knew it was a quarterback sneak. On that type of play, I'm thinking I've got to be the first one off the ball. I've got to cause disruption. I think on that play we wanted it more than they did."

TB STRIKES AGAIN: It just may been slot receiver Tyler Boyd's biggest catch since his fourth-and-12 TD catch from 49 yards out with 44 seconds left on the final snap of the 2017 season knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs and put the Bills in it.

It certainly was his most spectacular.

This third-and-nine in Saturday's overtime may have put the Bengals in the playoffs on a 44-yard catch and run to the Vikings 13 to set up the winning points.

It was a scramble drill with quarterback Jake Browning extending the play like quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher told him he would have to against the Vikings' eight-man drops.

"I was hoping he'd get it to me because I was open, but he got pressure," Boyd said of his original route in the middle of the field. "I was trying to stay in that area, nobody around for the first (down). But I went with him so he could see me. I tried to stay in a lane."

Browning gunned it rolling right to Boyd adjusting his route over the middle as he ran to the Bengals sideline. Boyd's concentration in a mass of bodies was immense. When Boyd caught it, he pulled a Harry Potter, magically appearing out of the scrum to rip off 20 yards after the catch.

How tight was Browning's window?

"When I caught it, all I could see was Tee coming right at me," Boyd said. "I thought the ball was going to him. I kind of clenched. But I was like, 'You know what? If I get hit, it's third down.' Just go make a play."

Browning seemed just as amazed after his 42nd and final pass of the day.

"There's not a lot of timing plays that are open when they drop eight," Browning said. "(Boyd) did a good job of coming back at a friendly angle. I think Tee thought he was getting the ball as well, so they kind of crossed full speed. TB got the ball, and I think that's what spun him on the run. The DBs thought Tee was about to catch it, and the other half thought T.B. was doing it. Everybody just kind of ran into each other. I thought he was going to score, but then I was glad (he went down) for ball security. I think if that was the second quarter, and not the end of the game, on that situation, he probably would have scored."

Up until then, Boyd had one catch for eight yards.

"It can go like that," Boyd said. "I was a little frustrated. The game wasn't coming my way. We have so many weapons we can use. Just try to patient and wait for when my number is called. Beginning of the game. End of the game. Whenever."

FACT CHECK: Yes, this game meant a whole hell of a lot to Browning. The former Viking tried to shrug it off. But when Evan McPherson's winning field goal went through and he yelled into a camera, "They never should have cut me," well, how do you really feel?

"There was definitely a little extra part (to this game). I remember getting cut there (Minnesota) the last time, and just being told, 'Hey, we might have a spot for you on the practice squad. Go to the hotel and wait,'" said Browning of 2021 cut down day. " I sat in the hotel for a couple of hours not knowing if I had a job or not, and just basically got a call from my agent. They didn't tell me. I had been there for two years. I've been cut my fair share of times, and that was probably the (crappiest) one.

"There was a little bit more this week. I know I denied it, and there are some great people over there. It's completely different. A completely different coaching staff and everything. I want to emphasize that there are some incredible people over there, but that one felt good."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Defensive tackle B.J. Hill, off his second interception in as many games, went up to Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase in the post-game locker holding his hands in front of his face and told him, "I've got hands, I've got hands."

He said, "You caught another one?" ...

Chase had his shoulder in a sling and head coach Zac Taylor didn't have an update for his status against the Steelers for Saturday …

It didn't look as serious as what happened to Reader and rookie cornerback D.J. Ivey after they were carted off. All Taylor said of those were "I don't think it's a positive (outcome)." …

Meet the Bengals' first official 15-sacker. Trey Hendrickson logged 1.5 sacks Saturday to give him 15 on the season and break his two-year-old Bengals record of 14. It was the sixth straight game of at least half a sack and he never stopped after his offsides penalty negated linebacker Germaine Pratt's 44-yard pick-six in the middle of the fourth quarter. When the Bengals tied it at 24 with 39 seconds left, Hendrickson made sure it was going OT with a sack on the first play after the tying touchdown …

Browning didn't break Chad Pennington's NFL record of 76.9 completion percentage in his first four starts. But 75.9% is quite good and second-best , ahead of Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner's 72.6%....

Running back Joe Mixon's total man fourth-and-goal line bounce to spoil Colerain High School and Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.'s birthday was his 48thrushing touchdown, moving him into a tie with Rudi Johnson for second on the Bengals all-time list ...

Evan McPherson, meet Mike Nugent. One of the last times the Bengals came back from at least 14 down in the fourth quarter was against Seattle at Paycor on Oct. 11, 2015. Nugent kicked it into overtime and then won it in overtime. On Saturday, McPherson kicked his second OT winner in 12 days after not having any since the 2021 AFC title game. He now has four, including playoffs, with the first one in his his NFL debut against these Vikes in the 2021 opener.

"Whenever the game got sent to overtime, I was just thinking about my dogs. They've been up for so long. I mean, I just felt bad for them. I wanted to make sure we got the game to end early," McPherson said. "It is funny that some of my game-winners in my rookie year we had one against the Jags and we had one against the Jags this year, and the Vikings the same. It's kind of funny how that all works out. I thought everybody executed well. They did a really good job." ...

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