MINNEAPOLIS — Eric Kendricks has quite the nose for the end zone.
The Vikings linebacker provided one of the biggest defensive plays of the season Sunday against Cincinnati when he returned an interception 31 yards for a score to help the Vikings secure a 34-7 win over Cincinnati.
Make it two career interceptions and two career touchdowns for the former high school running back.
"I like to score," Kendricks said with a laugh. "And any time we can score on defense … that was our first time scoring on defense this year. We have to get that done and need more of them."
"My running back days are long gone," Kendricks later added. "I like just sitting behind the ball and chasing running backs now. But we had great blocking, and I was able to make something of it."
Kendricks' big play came when the Vikings already held a 7-0 lead. Although the Vikings looked as if they were going to bring pressure, Minnesota's defense rushed just three players as eight dropped into coverage.
That included Kendricks, who stepped in front of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's pass before racing down the right sideline.
All he saw was a sea of Purple blockers, including fellow linebacker Anthony Barr.
"I saw Anthony right away and knew I could use his big frame. I started inside and froze everybody and then went to the corner and tried to outrun everybody."
Added Barr: "He was patient with the route to let it unfold, and then made a good play. The QB threw the ball to him, he was able to set the return and hit the sideline. I (blocked) a couple guys. But we needed to score on defense sometime. It's been all year, and we were due. I'm happy it was one of the linebackers and happy it was him."
When Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked if his defense threw a new wrinkle at the Bengals offense, he said, "I believe it was."
"I'm trying to think what the call was, but yeah, we had a couple different looks this week," Zimmer said.
Kendricks now has two career interception returns for touchdowns, adding to the 77-yard, pick-6 he recorded in the 2016 season opener at Tennessee.
He also is now tied for second all-time among Vikings linebackers with two career interception returns for touchdowns along with Mike Merriweather and Chad Greenway. Rip Hawkins, an original Viking, set the record with three.
Kendricks' big play also made an impression on a Vikings offensive player.
"He got a touchdown, so if I had to rate him 1-10, I'd give him an 8.5," said Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon. "Maybe a 9 for the dive."
Besides the linebacker's pick-6, the former UCLA standout was in on numerous other plays as well.
His first stop of the game came on second-and-1 on the Bengals second offensive play of the game, as Kendricks' tackle-for-loss eventually helped force a Cincinnati punt.
Kendricks, who led the Vikings in tackles entering Sunday's game, did his part on a Vikings defense that allowed a season-low 161 yards and surrendered just one third-down conversion on 13 tries.
"It feels good. Bounce back, get a good win, at home. It feels good," Kendricks said. "We knew what was at stake. This was awesome."
Minnesota's 11th victory of the season also clinched the NFC North for the Vikings, who have now won two division titles in three seasons.
Although the Vikings secured a spot in the postseason Sunday, don't expect them to let up anytime soon.
Just like Kendricks when he gets the ball in his hands.
"We're hungry for more," Kendricks said. "We're going to keep working."
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