The Vikings showed up to play in all three phases of the game, took control early and never took their foot off the gas along the way to a dominant 34-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The win improves the Vikings to 11-3 on the season.
Here are 10 takeaways from Sunday's win over Cincinnati.
1. The Vikings are Kings of the North
For the second time in three season, the Vikings are NFC North champions. The Vikings have grander goals than winning the NFC North, but a division championship is far from anything at which to scoff and it also makes attaining bigger goals a little easier. As division champions, the Vikings are now guaranteed at least one home playoff game in a year in which the Super Bowl will be played in their stadium. The Vikings can now turn their full attention toward winning their 12th game of the season and a pursuit of the 1 or 2 seed, which comes with a first-round bye and a home game in the divisional round.
2. Defense leads the way
The Vikings may have the NFL's best defense. Cincinnati found that out the hard way on Sunday. Minnesota held the Bengals to only 161 net yards and a per-play average of 3.2 yards. After allowing far too many rushing yards for their liking last week in Carolina, the Vikings were stingy against the Bengals running back and permitted only 46 yards on 20 carries (2.3 yards/carry). The Vikings won the time of possession battle by nearly 12 minutes and they held Cincinnati to one of 13 (8%) on 3rd downs. The Bengals didn't run a play in Vikings territory until 2:34 to go in the 3rd quarter. Eric Kendricks and Terence Newman had interceptions, with Kendricks taking his to the end zone to help give the Vikings a 14-0 lead midway through the 1st quarter. At the time of Newman's interception (6:34 to go in the 3rd quarter), the Vikings had as many interceptions of Andy Dalton (two) as the Bengals had 1st downs in the game. Dalton was also sacked three times on the day, twice by Brian Robison and another time by Danielle Hunter.
3. Fast start allowed Vikings to take control
Case Keenum was sacked on the game's first play, putting the Vikings offense in a 2nd and 19 hole. On the next play, Keenum found Latavius Murray on a well-timed and well-blocked screen pass that netted 28 yards and gave the offense a fresh start. The Vikings wound up scoring a touchdown to go up 7-0. Cincinnati responded on the first play of its possession, gaining nine yards to set up a 2nd and 1. Kendricks dropped running back Giovanni Bernard for a loss on 2nd down and then Dalton threw incomplete on 3rd down, forcing a punt. That exchange, with the Vikings digging out of an early hole to score a touchdown and the Bengals spoiling a large gain on their first play, set the tone for the 1st quarter. Kendricks' pick-six came on the Bengals second series and by the time the 1st quarter concluded, the Vikings had a large lead and command of the game.
4. Just another day at the office for Keenum
On a day where the defense dominated, Teddy Bridgewater got in the game and the team won a division title, Case Keenum's contribution may fly under the radar. But not in this space. Keenum was 20 of 23 (86.9%) for 236 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, a performance that generated a 138.4 passer rating. It's the sixth game in which Keenum has authored a triple-digit passer rating and the fifth such performance in the last six weeks.
5. Forbath back on track
Kai Forbath and the kicking team regained their confidence on Sunday. Entering Sunday's game, Forbath had missed four field goals and an extra point in the previous four games. But being back inside the friendly confines of U.S. Bank Stadium was good for Forbath and the kicking team, as they were true on field goal attempts of 53 and 35 yards while also splitting the uprights on four extra point attempts.
6. McKinnon, Murray pace the offensive attack
With the Bengals missing their top three linebackers heading into the game, one may have suggested Vikings running backs Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray had favorable chances of making an impact. One would have been right in making such a suggestion. Murray was the engine behind the Vikings first touchdown, gaining 28 yards on a screen pass on the second play of the game and capping that same series by plunging into the end zone from a yard out. Murray finished the game with 20 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown to go along with the 28-yard reception. McKinnon was the Vikings leading receiving, hauling in seven catches on eight targets for 114 yards, including gains of 41, 31 and 29 yards. In total, McKinnon and Murray combined for 37 touches, 242 yards and one touchdown.
7. Vikings coverage units dominated
There was no hidden yardage available to the Bengals return groups because of a dominant performance by the Vikings kickoff and punt coverage teams. Cincinnati had 12 punt return yards on two chances and 44 kickoff return yards on two chances. Vikings punter Ryan Quigley landed three of his five punts inside the Cincinnati 20 and Forbath had five touchbacks on the afternoon. The Bengals average drive start after a kickoff was their own 24 and their average drive start on all possessions was the 25. It was a 100% sound day for the coverage groups and the effort was led by rookie linebacker Eric Wilson, who had two stops; CJ Ham, Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse combined for the other three special teams tackles.
8. Xavier does it again
AJ Green is one of the best receivers in the NFL. But his supreme talent was squashed by another supremely talented player – Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Green was held to two catches for 30 yards on four targets. His outing against Rhodes today produced his second-lowest total for targets and catches in a game this season as well as his third-lowest yardage output of the season.
9. Another Rudy red zone strike
Tight end Kyle Rudolph toughed it out through an injury and played on Sunday, saying after the game there's no way he'd miss a game in which his team had a chance to clinch a division title. He came into Sunday's game with the third-most red zone catches in the NFL, having hauled in 13 on 15 targets. He was one for one against Cincinnati, securing a one-yard touchdown pass from Keenum in the 4th quarter to help put the Vikings ahead 34-0.
View game action images at the Vikings take on the Bengals at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
10. U.S. Bank Stadium crowd was unrelenting
The Vikings gave their fans something about which to cheer, and the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd took it from there. The building was raucous all afternoon and the noise made life tougher for the Bengals offense while spurring on the Vikings defense. Every team derives an advantage by playing at home, but few teams have an edge as sharp as the Vikings in their building.