The Vikings entered the fourth quarter of Saturday's game in Cincinnati with a 17-3 lead, in position for an eighth win that could burnish their playoff chances if they could finish off a victory over the Bengals. Instead, they fell to 7-7 with a 27-24 overtime defeat, losing a game in a manner they hadn't for three decades.

Saturday's defeat marked the first time the Vikings lost after entering the fourth quarter with a lead of 14 points or more since Oct. 31, 1993, when the Detroit Lions scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 30-27 at the Metrodome.

Since then, the Vikings had won 84 consecutive games when entering the final quarter up 14 or more. Only once in that stretch (against Houston in 2004) had they even been pushed to overtime. Their lead was reduced to seven points on the first play of the fourth quarter Saturday, so it's not as if they retained a 14-point lead with three minutes to go. But the fact they gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter, allowing the Bengals a second opportunity to tie the score after a Ty Chandler-fueled touchdown drive, makes the loss especially noteworthy. It was only the 19th time in franchise history the Vikings had allowed that many points in the fourth quarter.

Though the Vikings hadn't blown a lead as large as the one they surrendered in Cincinnati previously this season, the Bengals loss is the third consecutive defeat in which the Vikings have given up a fourth-quarter lead.

They were up 17-9 at the start of the fourth quarter in Denver last month, and had the ball with a 10-9 lead over the Chicago Bears when Anthony Barr recovered a fumble with 3:36 to go. If not for the blown leads, the Vikings — even without Kirk Cousins — would be playing the Lions for first place in the NFC North on Sunday. Instead, they will try to keep the 2023 Lions from becoming the first Detroit team to win a division title since that 1993 team that rallied against the Vikings on Halloween.

So what's led the Vikings to lose their late leads? There might be a few themes to consider.

First, the end-of-game scenarios have tested their young secondary. The Broncos won when Courtland Sutton boxed out Mekhi Blackmon on a jump ball after running a corner route between the rookie and Josh Metellus. Tee Higgins' game-tying touchdown Sunday came as Jake Browning threw for the end zone under pressure and Higgins worked back to the ball ahead of Akayleb Evans.

The Vikings haven't given up many downfield shots this season, in part because their pass rush has paired with zone coverages to encourage teams to throw underneath. But in end-of-game situations, when quarterbacks might be more inclined to take a chance, the Vikings could find more situations that test their young corners' abilities to make plays on the ball.

Second, the Vikings offense has struggled to close games. They seemed on the way to a decisive score in Denver before Alexander Mattison's fumble and spotted the Broncos another three points on their next drive following a Joshua Dobbs interception. They went three-and-out following Barr's fumble recovery against Chicago and gained only 26 yards on Ryan Wright's punt from the Bears 48.

On Sunday, a false start on Christian Darrisaw quickly put the Vikings in trouble on their first drive of the fourth quarter, giving the ball back to the Bengals and setting up their first game-tying drive.

Finally, it's worth acknowledging the fact things are going to look different without consistency on offense. Three of the Vikings' four wins with Cousins were one-score games, so it's not as though the team excelled at putting games away with its starter. But Cousins completed four passes for 27 yards on a drive that consumed 4:19 and forced the San Francisco 49ers to use their final timeouts before a Greg Joseph missed field goal, and the Vikings had built a three-touchdown lead by the middle of the third quarter over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, in a game where Cousins completed 23 of his 31 passes for 274 yards and two TDs without a turnover.

That type of efficiency might not be available to the Vikings as much without him; the Vikings built their lead in Cincinnati despite two Nick Mullens interceptions inside the Bengals 25. It's also worth asking what effect the absence of the Cousins/Justin Jefferson combo for most of the season has on coach Kevin O'Connell's play-calling, which some fans have criticized for being too conservative late in games.

For a number of reasons, the Vikings have ceded leads in ways they didn't last season. It's one of the main reasons why, 53 weeks after they clinched the NFC North title at U.S. Bank Stadium, they could see the Lions do it Sunday.