CINCINNATI — Kirk Cousins noted Sunday that NFL games can "turn on a dime."
Moments earlier, the Vikings 27-24 overtime loss to the Bengals had turned multiple times on a down — fourth down.
The final pivot occurred on fourth-and-a-fingernail for Cincy as the extra period waned. The Bengals needed a little nudge, and the Vikings anchored for a quarterback sneak by Joe Burrow, who had succeeded on such a play and setting earlier in the game.
The problem, however, was a sneaky play executed by the second-year quarterback.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah got behind the Vikings defense on a drag route, created separation from a trailing safety, Xavier Woods, and secured the catch on a lofted toss by Burrow.
"They are a good quarterback sneak team, and they do have that, they had that check in there last year, the exact same play. So we talked about it," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "It's just that they did a nice job when they checked it. He was quarterback sneaking and then checked it to that play where the tight end comes … out of formation. So it was a play that we practiced."
Execution defeated preparation. The play gained 32 yards, moving the ball from the Cincinnati 48-yard line to the Minnesota 20 to set up a game-winning 38-yard field goal and undermine a comeback effort by a Vikings squad that stumbled early on offense and late in the first half on defense.
"They don't get that fourth down, we have the ball [near] the 50-yard line," Cousins said. "That's kind of the way pro football is, you never know when you got to play to the last second because things turn on a dime."
The kick occurred on the Bengals third possession of the 10-minute overtime. Cincinnati had won its second coin toss of the day and opted to receive, unlike in the first half when the Bengals deferred.
Michael Pierce's second sack of the day ended that possession, but Minnesota followed with a three-and-punt. Cincinnati reciprocated.
The Vikings were moving the ball on their second possession of overtime, but a play that was ruled a fumble by Dalvin Cook gave Cincinnati the ball at its own 39 with 1:48 remaining.
After a lengthy review, officials announced the call stood.
"When they took so long to do it, I figured it would stand, yeah," Zimmer said.
The game's only turnover was big for sure, but the fourth downs (Minnesota was 2-for-2, and Cincinnati was 2-for-3) were significant factors in shaping the game:
Third quarter, 10:59 remaining
Fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 25: Burrow converts with a gain of 2 on a QB sneak; Joe Mixon scores a 2-yard touchdown three plays later for a 21-7 lead.
Third quarter, 3:20 remaining
Fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 30: Mixon is tackled for no gain; momentum seems to swing toward Minnesota.
"When they don't get it and you get a short field, you can definitely see it as a great opportunity," Cousins said.
Third quarter, 2:30 remaining
Fourth-and-4 at the Cincinnati 24: Cousins connects with Adam Thielen on a slant that results in a 24-yard touchdown to make it 21-14.
"They brought Cover 0 on the fourth down, and Adam did a great job separating versus his man and then finishing the play. It was great to get that touchdown."
View game action photos of the Vikings before the season opener against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Fourth quarter, 0:37 remaining
Fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 45: Cousins targets K.J. Osborn over the middle; Osborn makes a diving catch; Greg Joseph ties the game at 24 with a 53-yard field goal three plays later.
"I thought [Osborn's] catch on fourth in two-minute [drill] was elite," Cousins said. "The ball was thrown hard, he's in a lot of traffic, and he made a tremendous catch. Those are the kinds of plays as a quarterback when you see them made, it gives you a lot of confidence that you can throw the ball in there."
Overtime, 0:39 remaining
Fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 48: Burrow tosses the pass to Uzomah; Evan McPherson kicks a 33-yard field goal three plays later.
"Oh, man. That's tough, man," said Michael Pierce, who recorded 2.0 sacks in his Vikings debut. "Like I said, I'm kind of in the middle of everything. I don't know how that went down exactly. But, you know, that's when they look for those trick plays. You just got to be, obviously, more locked in. Everybody has to be on their assignments. That's probably something they drew up and worked on in camp and stuff.
"It's unfortunate they converted," Pierce said before pointing out, "If they wouldn't have gotten down the field that wouldn't have happened. You can take a negative out of a lot of things. But it's about play after play after play. That was a great call by them. Great execution. We've got to clean it up."