12/17 17:01 CST Vikings cruise past Bengals 34-7 to clinch NFC North
Vikings cruise past Bengals 34-7 to clinch NFC North
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) --- The Minnesota Vikings and their loud crowd overwhelmed the
Cincinnati Bengals from start to finish, when they put on NFC North champions
hats to celebrate the first major milestone of this season with the hope of
several more to come.
From coaches to players to fans, everyone in purple was able to enjoy a
Eric Kendricks had an interception return for a touchdown , Case Keenum passed
for 236 yards and two scores, and the Vikings clinched the division title with
a 34-7 victory over the depleted and disinterested Bengals on Sunday.
"To guarantee a home playoff game there? I can't imagine. I have a feeling it's
going to be even more amped up," Keenum said.
Running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 37 touches and
242 yards from scrimmage for the Vikings (11-3), who were given quite the
reprieve on the schedule after their eight-game winning streak ended at
Carolina in the last of three consecutive road trips.
"It feels good," wide receiver Adam Thielen said, "but it was a little bit
restrained because there's still work to do."
The Vikings were never challenged by a Bengals team missing more than half of
its starting defense to injuries and met with a morning report by ESPN that
head coach Marvin Lewis will not return next season . Lewis said afterward
that's not true, but the Bengals have all kinds of issues to address after
losing their last two games by a combined 67-14.
"It's the most disappointed I've been in the last couple of years," said wide
receiver A.J. Green, who accounted for two of Cincinnati's three first downs
while starting quarterback Andy Dalton was in the game until midway through the
fourth quarter. "It's been a tough season."
The game went so smoothly for the Vikings that Teddy Bridgewater even made his
grand entrance , his first live action in 16 months since a massive knee
injury. Bridgewater's first pass was intercepted, a high throw that bounced off
McKinnon's hands and into the arms of strong safety Shawn Williams deep in
Vikings territory. That set up a short touchdown run by Giovani Bernard to keep
the Bengals from being shut out for a second time this year.
"It was great just being out there," Bridgewater said. "I have a ton of people
to thank for getting me to this point."
Terence Newman also picked off former teammate Andy Dalton , who went just 11
for 22 for 113 yards before the Bengals (5-9) turned to backup A.J. McCarron
after the interception by Williams.
Keenum completed 20 of 23 passes, including seven easy tosses to McKinnon for
114 yards in the first 100-yard receiving game for a Vikings running back since
Onterrio Smith in 2004. With the Bengals already missing both starting
cornerbacks and all three regular linebackers, they lost standout free safety
George Iloka in the first quarter to a shoulder injury. That left Williams as
the only starter in the back seven.
About the only bright spot for the Bengals was five-time Pro Bowl defensive
tackle Geno Atkins, who sacked Keenum twice in the first quarter. The Bengals
didn't cross midfield with the ball until less than 3 minutes were left in the
third quarter, thanks to a Vikings defense that was as revved up as ever.
"The Super Bowl is in their home stadium," Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap
said. "They've got everything they want in front of them."
END ZONE FUN
Murray scored on a short run to cap the opening drive by the Viking, and Keenum
found Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph for touchdown passes in the second and
fourth quarters. Rudolph celebrated with a tribute to a better day for the
50-year-old Bengals franchise with his version of the "Ickey Shuffle" that
running back Ickey Woods for the 1988 AFC champions.
"I felt bad doing it at that point in the game, but as a kid that grew up in
Cincinnati, I had to do it," said Rudolph, who was originally listed as
doubtful to play because of an injured ankle.
TORMENTING THE MENTOR
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer won his first regular-season meeting against his old
boss, Lewis, who lost to a former assistant for the first time in eight
matchups. Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals from 2008-13.
The Bengals have never won in six all-time visits to Minnesota. The Vikings
were division champions in five of those seasons: 1970, 1989, 1998, 2009 and
Bengals: The list of missing starters grew immediately when LT Cedric Ogbuehi
(shoulder) left in the first quarter. RT Andre Smith limped off in the fourth
Vikings: RT Mike Remmers (back) returned from a five-game absence, but LT Riley
Reiff (ankle) missed his first game of the season. CB Mackensie Alexander
(ribs) was out. WR Jarius Wright hurt his foot in the fourth quarter and did
Bengals: Play their final home game against Detroit, with the Lions (8-6) still
carrying an outside chance at a wild-card spot.
Vikings: Travel to Green Bay to face the Packers (7-7) on Saturday night, with
their sights set on securing a first-round bye for the playoffs.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL