CINCINNATI – It appeared for a split second, as Jake Browning evaded the Vikings pass rush and floated his final pass of regulation toward the end zone, like Akayleb Evans would have a chance to intercept the pass.

Kevin O'Connell was so convinced the Vikings had reached the line to gain on the first of their two failed quarterback sneaks in overtime that turned out to be their last offensive plays that he started making his first-down call in search of a winning field goal.

Browning's 44-yard overtime connection with Tyler Boyd grazed Byron Murphy Jr.'s fingertip, the cornerback said, before Boyd secured the pass that would seal the Vikings' fate.

The laments provided context, not comfort, after Evan McPherson's 29-yard overtime field goal sealed Cincinnati's second 27-24 victory over the Vikings in three years. These Vikings, after their seventh one-score loss of the season, are just about out of time for comfort.

The Vikings blew a two-touchdown lead on Saturday, allowing the Bengals to score three fourth-quarter TDs and tie the score twice. The Vikings have now surrendered leads in the final two minutes in each of their past three losses, and though they remained in playoff position after falling to the Bengals on Saturday, they are once again tied in the loss column with three NFC teams who will play later this weekend, meaning their claim on a playoff spot could soon be reduced to tiebreaker advantages.

Whether by mistakes, mismanagement, misfortune or some menagerie of the three, the Vikings returned to Minnesota on Saturday night minus another victory that seemed in their grasp.

"Very unfortunate," O'Connell said. "I felt we let one slip away. I think you've got to credit the Bengals, getting their offense going there in the second half. We just didn't capitalize on our last opportunity offensively there. I thought we had a good look at it on third down. The official spotted it otherwise, so they probably had a better look than I did. We've got to get a little bit more than that in that inches-type situation."

The Vikings' 424 yards were their most since losing Kirk Cousins to a torn right Achilles tendon. Nick Mullens became the first quarterback other than Cousins to surpass 300 yards in a game since Case Keenum in 2017, and Ty Chandler's 132 rushing yards were the most by a Vikings running back since O'Connell became coach.

The game, despite the production, slipped away by familiar means.

Mullens was intercepted twice inside the Bengals 25-yard line, throwing into double coverage for Justin Jefferson in the second quarter and flipping one to B.J. Hill — the same defender dragging him to the ground — just before halftime. Evans, who was beaten by Tee Higgins on Browning's jump ball with 39 seconds left, became the second young Vikings cornerback in four games to surrender a critical last-minute touchdown.

Browning, the former Vikings backup who lost out to third-round pick Kellen Mond for the No. 2 job in 2021, completed 13 of 19 fourth-quarter passes for 184 yards against coverages that left too much space in the middle of the field. And requiring only a field goal to win the game, the Vikings came up short of the yard they needed on the ground when Mullens was stopped twice from the Cincinnati 42 in overtime.

The failed sneaks — known these days as tush pushes — will likely command outsize attention in the aftermath of the game, given the fact that, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the Vikings became the first team to come up short on back-to-back attempts since Jalen Hurts and the Eagles popularized the play last year. O'Connell opted to have 181-pound receiver Brandon Powell push Mullens on both attempts, choosing to run the play out of a three-receiver set to keep the Bengals from switching to heavier defensive personnel.

Mullens was turned sideways on the first attempt, though O'Connell said he started calling a first-down play because the side judge on the Vikings' sideline started to react as though the play was a first down. "The guy on our sideline, I started calling a first-and-10 play because I saw him; I was standing right there across the line," O'Connell said. "The side judge on the other side must have had it short and saw his knee go down."

Mullens, too, said he thought he'd reached the line to gain on the first attempt, though he added, "There's also a lot of carnage, I guess you could say, right there in the middle, so you're not exactly sure. But I felt like it was a pretty good attempt."

O'Connell stuck with the same personnel group on fourth down and had Powell pushing Mullens, but Hill defeated Garrett Bradbury's block quickly enough to choke off Mullens' space in the middle of the line.

"Whatever happens, you have to find a way to execute, and we have to find a way to get it done," Mullens said. "This stinks for sure."

Browning, who found Ja'Marr Chase for 24 yards on third-and-21 in the fourth quarter, then got another big pickup on third-and-9 when he rolled away from a four-man rush and floated a pass for Boyd in the vicinity of three Vikings defenders. Murphy, who was Browning's college teammate at Washington, came up just short of deflecting the pass, and Boyd evaded Evans and Camryn Bynum to gain another 24 yards after the catch to the Vikings 13.

Two years ago, McPherson hit the game-winner from 34 yards in overtime of his first NFL game. On Saturday, his 29-yard kick sailed through with no hint it would drift off course.

"That was a tough one," said Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter, who had two sacks to reach a career-high 15½ for the season. "You're good all week, and then right at the end came up short, lost the turnover battle, so we definitely got to get better at that."

The Vikings have lost games through unfortunate bounces and become the first team in franchise history to start four quarterbacks in a season, but they have piled up seven losses through a process that has happened so frequently that it feels almost mechanistic.

They have three games left, all against fellow NFC North playoff contenders, and might need to win two of them to become the first Vikings team in 14 years to reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

Otherwise, they will begin an offseason full of pivotal decisions at a lamentably early date.

"We're still in it. We're still right there," Jefferson said. "Even this game, we're one, two plays away from winning the game. That's the difficult part about it, but it is what it is. We've got to move on and think about next week."