December 17, 2017 / 9:34 PM / 9 months ago

Vikings clinch NFC North title with win over Bengals

Vikings clinch NFC North title with win over Bengals

MINNEAPOLIS — While his former team and mentor were on the other sideline with their futures looking cloudy, Mike Zimmer had his Minnesota Vikings looking like a Super Bowl contender.

With Zimmer’s defense providing a dominating effort, two long-time friends were leading their teams on very divergent paths.

Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and Minnesota’s defense dominated Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals in a 34-7 win on Sunday.

Latavius Murray added 76 yards rushing and a touchdown for Minnesota (11-3), which clinched the NFC North with its ninth win in the past 10 games.

“I know being a division champion isn’t the final goal, but it’s important to go out and win 11 games, win your division, get a chance to get in the playoffs and then go from there,” Zimmer said.

Cincinnati was listless in front of a deafening U.S. Bank Stadium after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported before the game that head coach Marvin Lewis plans to step down after the season. Lewis has spent 15 years as the Bengals coach, going 123-112-3 as the all-time winningest coach in team history, but with losses in all seven playoff games.

After the game, Lewis said the report was inaccurate.

“It’s nothing that’s changed since August,” Lewis said. “It’s just speculation people keep throwing out there, and it makes ... we’re all wasting time talking about it.”

Lewis added: “I have not made any decisions about anything, I’ve told you how many times.”

Lewis said he talked to his team about the report before the game and felt the report of his leaving didn’t affect the team.

Dalton was 11-of-22 passing for 113 yards and two interceptions, and was replaced by backup AJ McCarron in the fourth quarter.

The Bengals (5-9) were limited to 46 yards rushing in their third straight loss. Giovani Bernard had 14 carries for 30 yards and converted a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

“It’s the most disappointed I’ve been in the last couple years,” said receiver A.J. Green, who finished with two catches on four targets for 30 yards. “It’s been a tough season.”

Brian Robison had two of the Vikings’ three sacks on Sunday, and Eric Kendricks returned a first-quarter interception for a touchdown. Minnesota held Cincinnati to 161 yards and 1 of 13 on third down.

“It does feel good, but we understand this is part of a bigger picture,” Robison said. “This is the start. We’re not finished.”

The Vikings left little doubt in Sunday’s outcome. They drove 75 yards in nine plays on the opening drive, which was capped by Murray’s 1-yard touchdown run. Minnesota had three plays of at least 20 yards on the drive.

On Cincinnati’s second possession, Kendricks had his second career interception return for a touchdown and the first defensive touchdown by the Vikings this season for a 14-0 lead.

The Bengals failed to convert a first down in the first quarter, their third straight game with zero first downs in a single quarter. Minnesota held Cincinnati to 42 net yards in the first half, the fewest for a Vikings opponent since 2010.

“It’s a good feeling,” Minnesota defensive tackle Linval Joseph said of limited the Bengals in the first half. “The best feeling is a win and win at a high level in all phases of the game.”

Keenum was 20-of-23 passing before giving way to Teddy Bridgewater for the team’s first drive of the fourth quarter.

It was Bridgewater’s first appearance in a game since a devastating knee injury before the first game of last season. A fan favorite, he received a standing ovation from the home crowd. Bridgewater was 0 of 2, with an interception that went off running back Jerick McKinnon’s hands.

“It’s just a great feeling,” Bridgewater said. “You have a group of men in this locker room who uplifted their brother throughout a hard time in his life. To see them so supportive of me, it motivated me. Just a great experience, I’m glad I was able to experience it with this group of men in this locker room and we were able to clinch the division.”

NOTES: Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph was active after being listed as doubtful on Friday’s injury report with an ankle injury. Rudolph’s status improved the past two days and he finished with two catches for 17 yards and a touchdown. ... Vikings LT Riley Reiff missed his first game of the season with an ankle injury. ... CB Dre Kirkpatrick, RB Joe Mixon and LB Vontaze Burfict all were inactive for Cincinnati due to concussions. ... The Bengals lost S George Iloka (shoulder), LT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder) and LB Vincent Rey (jaw) during the game to injuries. ... Minnesota CB Terence Newman had a third-quarter interception of Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton. It was his 42nd career interception, which is second to DeAngelo Hall (43) for most among active players.

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