MINNEAPOLIS –Case Keenum played three quarters, threw for two touchdowns and had just three incompletions in the Vikings 34-7 defeat of the Bengals to clinch the NFC North division title.
It was Keenum's impressive performance that enabled him to pass the metaphorical torch to Teddy Bridgewater for the final 10 minutes of the game.
A standing ovation and chants of "Ted-dy! Ted-dy! Ted-dy!" welcomed Bridgewater as he stepped into a regular-season game for the first time in nearly two years.
Cheers from more than 66,000 fans echoed throughout U.S. Bank Stadium, but Bridgewater heard one voice above the others.
"It was great," Bridgewater said of hearing his name called. "It was better seeing Case leading the chant. Case is an awesome guy, and to see him standing behind me was just amazing."
Latavius Murray said Keenum's support for Bridgewater once again illustrated the type of locker room Minnesota has.
"I think that's very important. I think when you talk about guys being unselfish, you're talking about two guys who play the position and, I'm sure, two guys who want to be out on the field at that position," Murray said. "It just shows the character of this locker room, how special the group is that we have. I truly believe in that, and that's why I love this group."
Keenum finished the afternoon 20-of-23 passing for 236 yards and a passer rating of 138.4. He gave Bridgewater a pat, offered a "go get 'em" and donned a Vikings baseball cap while Bridgewater slipped on his helmet.
"I was pumped. I really was," Keenum said. "I was so excited for Teddy to get back out there. He's such a good dude, and I have the utmost respect for him.
"I may have been one of the guys trying to start the Teddy chant," Keenum added. "I couldn't be more excited for him."
Keenum was able to view the rest of the game from the sidelines and receive an NFC North Champions hat after the game, marking the first time he's been on a division-winning team in the NFL.
The quarterback's day had started by a Geno Atkins sack on the game's first play, but he wasn't rattled. Rather, he stepped back on second-and-19 and passed to Latavius Murray, who turned and ran for the first down and then some.
Murray's 28-yard catch was his longest of the year and set the Vikings back on track.
Keenum took off running two plays later, scrambling for 20 yards and into Bengals territory. After two more rushes by Murray, Keenum found Adam Thielen for a 21-yard play that put Minnesota in goal-to-go from the 5 and set up a 1-yard rushing score for Murray.
Keenum's longest play of the day sparked a second-quarter series that resulted in the Vikings second offensive touchdown of the day.
Minnesota needed two yards on third down, but Keenum found Jerick McKinnon for 41.
"You never know with that guy. He's explosive, man," Keenum said of McKinnon, who led the Vikings in receiving with 114 yards. "We had some good schemes. [Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur] did a great job putting in some guys plays [that put guys] in tough situations to guard him, and he was able to get really open and make some guys miss and some big play down the field on third down."
Aside from the deep ball to McKinnon, Keenum made four other completions, all to Stefon Diggs. After catches of 4, 2 and 3 yards, respectively, over a 57-yard drive, Diggs hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Keenum. The score gave Minnesota a 24-0 lead after an Eric Kendricks pick-6 and a 53-yard field goal by Kai Forbath.
Keenum looked off the safety before finding Diggs in the left of the end zone.
"Case does a great job with that," Diggs said. "As far as position the ball, looking off safeties, and just that good quarterback play. I just try to make the plays that come to me."
Keenum's second of two passing touchdowns occurred early in the fourth quarter after a pass interference penalty was called on Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard in the end zone.
On first-and-goal from the 1, Keenum threw to Kyle Rudolph, who was upgraded to "questionable" on the Vikings injury report Saturday.
"For Rudy to get and make a few really big plays for us says a lot," Keenum said. "It says a lot to just have him out there. He does a great job preparing."
Keenum was sacked twice by Atkins for a combined loss of 14 yards and faced pressure on a number of other plays, but he remained confident and made plays throughout the day.
Following the game, Keenum said it felt awesome to be in "uncharted territory" and holding a division title.
"I don't take it lightly," Keenum said. "I think we've got a special group of guys [that] come through and win when we needed to.
"To do it at home in front of our crowd, that crowd is awesome," Keenum continued. "To guarantee a home playoff game here, I can't imagine. I have a feeling it's going to be even more amped up. It's exciting."
It was Keenum's touchdown pass to Rudolph that gave the Vikings plenty of breathing room and allowed Bridgewater an opportunity to get back on the field in a non-exhibition game for the first time since January 2016.
"We were playing well enough today that maybe there was a chance I could get in there, so hats off to the guys getting out early, jumping out on those guys," Bridgewater said. "We set some goals early in this week, and we started fast, just like we talked about. It was just good. In the third quarter, I'm like, 'Hey, maybe there's a possibility that I might get in.' And then it happened."
Over two series, Bridgewater handed off the ball four times and passed twice, one of which was an interception by Cincinnati's Shawn Williams.
Despite the turnover, Bridgewater said it was a great feeling to get back into a game.
"It was amazing hearing the crowd chant and things like that," Bridgewater said. "[But the] biggest takeaway from the day is that we're in the tournament. We set goals back in the spring, and we're hitting all of our goals right now."
When asked by a reporter if he expects to get any more snaps in Minnesota's final two regular-season games at Green Bay and against Chicago, Bridgewater said he's not concerned about that.
"Honestly, we're rolling right now. So as long as we just continue to keep playing good football, that's all I want for this team," Bridgewater said. "We're playing good football right now, and hopefully we can continue to just keep playing well."
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