After last week's debacle, I wrote:
Plenty of problems were exposed tonight, and plenty of challenges have emerged -- now we get to see just how resilient this team is.
Answer: Pretty dang resilient.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Vikings jumped out to a two-score lead over the Bengals by halftime, extended that lead by a touchdown in the third quarter, and iced the game in the fourth quarter. Between missteps by a sloppy Bengals club, an impressive defensive effort headlined by the return of Antoine Winfield, a productive afternoon for Adrian Peterson, and a solid special teams performance, the Vikings looked darn good today.
And of all the factors that lifted the Vikings to a 20-point win over Cincinnati, the defense deserves a huge amount of the credit. One unforgettable scene from today's game: Antoine Winfield dropping what should have been an intercepted pass, and proceeding to do several push-ups between his drop and the next play. Good to have you back, Toine. The man's presence was felt in a big way, as Carson Palmer only managed 94 yards on 25 pass attempts. Chad Ochocinco got into the endzone in the second quarter to bring the Bengals within a field goal, but as far as offensive highlights go, there weren't many for Cincy beyond Ocho's 15-yard score.
Sure, Cedric Benson put up some impressive numbers -- 16 carries for 96 yards -- but nearly half of those yards came on a single carry, and for the most part, the rush defense was solid. All told, the Bengals could only manage 210 yards of total offense, while getting flagged 11 times for 85 yards. The Vikings made their share of unforced errors (nine penalties for 69 yards), but the Purple didn't make any mistakes that were too costly.
On the offensive side, Adrian Peterson rebounded nicely from a rough night in Arizona, finishing the game with a combined 137 yards through the air and on the ground. He also scored twice, including a dive into the endzone for a touchdown in the third quarter that would clinch the victory for the Vikings.
Brett Favre continued to struggle a bit, completing just over 50% of his passes while tossing a touchdown and an interception. The absence of Percy Harvin couldn't have helped matters for Brett, who never targeted his other favorite receivers -- Shank and Rice -- with any sort of consistency this afternoon (though it should be noted that one of Sid's four receptions was a nine-yard touchdown in the first quarter that lifted the Vikings to a 10-0 lead). It was a shame that Brett couldn't get into a rhythm for the second game in a row, but then again, that doesn't matter a whole lot when everything else is going right for the Vikings. And that was the case today.
Jasper Brinkley made three tackles today in relief of E.J. Henderson, but the real story was the emotional lift provided to this defense through the return of Antoine Winfield. After nine tackles and a few push-ups, Antoine had given everyone a reminder -- as if we needed it -- of just how valuable he is to this defense. You would have never guessed this guy had been sidelined for as long as he was, since he didn't miss a beat out there.
By the way, something that will probably go under the radar but deserves mention is the performance from the special teams. Aside from a penalty or two, it was near-perfect. Longwell went 3/3, Cincy averaged three yards per punt return and under 20 yards per kickoff return, and Kluwe was kicking the ball nicely out there. For a group that has sometimes struggled to rebound from a tough 2008 season, the special teams looked good today.
But Antoine Winfield and Adrian Peterson will headline this game, and rightfully so. Winfield was simply tremendous, and Peterson's pair of touchdowns helped him break a single-season team record for rushing touchdowns. This week was about rebounding from a setback, and both of those guys did just that.