Sunday, December 17, 2017

Notebook: Vikings rout the Bengals, claim NFC North title


The Vikings ran past the Cincinnati Bengals for a 34-7 win to claim their second NFC North title in three seasons. Daniel House provides his analysis and takes you inside Teddy Bridgewater's return.

The Minnesota Vikings are 11-3 and NFC North champions with quarterback Case Keenum at the helm. It’s exactly how everyone drew it up in late July. The Vikings demoralized a team with their head coach on the way out at season’s end. Quarterback Case Keenum completed 86.7 percent of his passes, while tossing two touchdowns. Jerick McKinnon added 114 receiving yards and the Vikings defense surrendered just 161 total yards. Minnesota used seven plays over 20-plus yards to run past the Cincinnati Bengals for a 34-7 win.

The Vikings opened the game with an 8-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard Latavius Murray rushing score. Minnesota never looked back, adding an interception return touchdown by linebacker Eric Kendricks. Kendricks read Andy Dalton’s eyes and made a difficult grab, sprinting down the sideline for a touchdown. He was aided by beautiful blocking from Anthony Barr to get into the end zone.

The Vikings offense was moving well throughout the day and used zone-read action, crossers and outlet passes to running backs as they exploited the lack of depth on the Bengals’ defense. Case Keenum fired a laser between two defensive backs to fuel a 20-yard receiving touchdown by Stefon Diggs. The Vikings led 24-0 with just over six minutes left in the second quarter. Minnesota kept the Bengals on their toes the entire day, while running back Jerick McKinnon led the team with 114 receiving yards. McKinnon was a backside outlet option on three plays and burst free for a 41-yard gain. The Vikings offense will need to eliminate penalties as they continue to play important games down the stretch. Minnesota had 11 penalties for 93 yards, including numerous holding calls throughout the day. It was clear Mike Remmers was still shaking off rust as he returned from his five-game hiatus. The Vikings will need their offensive line to play at a high level throughout the playoffs. Eliminating penalties is the first step toward becoming more dangerous as a team.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looked lost throughout the day. Until a 41-yard grab by Brandon LaFell late in the third quarter, Cincinnati had just 72 total yards of offense. Dalton threw two interceptions, including a circus-style grab by cornerback Terence Newman. The Vikings pass rush reached Dalton for two sacks, creating quarterback hurries throughout the day. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes held wide receiver A.J. Green to just two catches for 30 yards on four targets. Linebacker Eric Kendricks was flying all over the field, creating a tackle for loss and an interception return touchdown. He also beautifully covered tight end Tyler Kroft up the sideline to force an incompletion. Against the run, Linval Joseph was dominant, shutting down Cincinnati runs all day. The Bengals rushed for just 46 yards and had only one third down conversion the entire day. The Vikings defense shut the Bengals down in every way, allowing just six total first downs in what nearly became a shutout performance. Cincinnati’s offense was putrid and they had no answer for one of the top defenses in football.

Minnesota was leading 34-0 when head coach Mike Zimmer went over to Teddy Bridgewater on the sideline and told him to get ready. It’s a moment which sent Vikings fans into complete euphoria. Teddy Bridgewater walked onto the field for the first time since sustaining a major leg injury last August. The entire sell-out crowd was on their feet cheering him on as he began the drive. His teammates stood on the sideline and cheered for him as he walked on the field for the first time. Quarterback Case Keenum stood on the edge of the sideline encouraging Bridgewater as took his first snaps. Bridgewater tossed an interception and his two drives came and went very quickly, but this moment was bigger than football. A player with a serious injury showed what it takes to return and inspired many by just setting foot on the field again. More importantly, the moment showed how much team chemistry the Vikings have. Everyone on the roster understood how special the moment was for their teammate. They are playing selfless football and it’s an important trait for winning teams.

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