MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Eric Kendricks had an interception return for a touchdown, Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two scores, and the Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North title with a 34-7 victory over the depleted and disinterested Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
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 a week after their eight-game winning streak ended at Carolina in the last of three consecutive road trips. They 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 .
The game went so smoothly 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.
Terence Newman also picked off former teammate Andy Dalton, who went just 11 for 22 for 113 yards and three first downs before the Bengals (5-9) turned to backup quarterback A.J. McCarron midway through the fourth quarter 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 on Sept. 26, 2004, against Chicago. 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. Dalton and the offense produced these four possessions in the first quarter: three-and-out, interception, turnover on downs and three-and-out. The Bengals didn’t cross midfield with the ball until less than 3 minutes were left in the third quarter.
Murray scored on a short run to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive by the Vikings to start the game. Keenum found Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph for touchdown passes in the second and fourth quarters. Rudolph, a Cincinnati native, paid tribute to the 50-year-old franchise’s better days by doing his version of the “Ickey Shuffle” to celebrate his score.
TORMENTING HIS 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 2017.
Bengals: The long list of missing starters began to grow almost immediately, when Iloka and LT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder) left in the first quarter. RT Andre Smith limped off in the fourth quarter.
Vikings: Rudolph (ankle) played TE despite being originally listed on Friday as doubtful to play. 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 not return.
Bengals: Play their final home game against Detroit, with the Lions still carrying an outside chance at a wild-card spot.
Vikings: Travel to Green Bay to face the Packers on Saturday night, with their sights set on securing a first-round bye for the playoffs.
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