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Vikings vs. Bengals: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the five most important plays from the Vikings’ blowout victory over the Bengals.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings defense dominated the Bengals on Sunday.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was fun, wasn’t it?

A week after getting their eight-game winning streak snapped in Carolina, the Vikings bounced back in a big way by throttling the Bengals 34-7. The Vikings D was decimating and dominant for the duration of the duel, holding the Bengals to 161 total yards and picking off two Andy Dalton passes. Cincinnati converted only 1 of 13 third downs and had the ball for only 24:08. After getting burned on a couple long runs against the Panthers last week, the Vikings held the Bengals to 2.3 yards per carry on Sunday. And oh yeah, they sacked Dalton three times too.

Meanwhile, Case Keenum wasn’t quite flawless, but his numbers were pretty close. He completed 20 of his 23 passes to seven different receivers for 236 yards and two scores. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 242 yards from scrimmage as the Vikings jumped out to a big lead early and never looked back.

It wasn’t a thrilling contest by any means, but beating a team you’re “supposed to beat” and coasting to a victory can be just as viscerally satisfying. Giving the nerves a week off is nice. As the playoffs draw near—which are now a certainty since the Vikings wrapped up the NFC North on Sunday—it was great to see this team go out and execute on both sides in front of their home crowd.

Of course, there’s still some work to do. The Vikings committed eleven penalties that stymied a few drives. The offensive line had some trouble. It’s now unlikely the Vikings will get the top seed in the NFC. (Thanks for nothing, Giants!) However, a first round bye and the #2 seed are well within Minnesota’s sights. If the Vikings win one of their next two games, they’ll get the bye unless the 12-4 Panthers win the NFC South and the Rams don’t win out. (But since both games are against division rivals, they might as well just win them both and guarantee themselves a bye.)

We’ll have plenty of time to break down scenarios over the next couple weeks. For now, let’s go through our weekly review of the five biggest plays that had the most impact on the game.

Play 1: Vikings ball, 3rd & 3 at the Cincinnati 26. First quarter, 11:47 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass short right to A.Thielen to CIN 5 for 21 yards (V.Rey).

After already overcoming a sack on the opening play of the game, the Vikings faced a big third down later in their first drive. And you’ll never guess who they went to for a big play.

Just kidding. You’ll totally guess. It was Adam Thielen.

Thielen found himself wide open after the linebacker followed Kyle Rudolph on the opposite crossing route, Keenum got rid of the ball accurately before the pressure got there, and the Vikings had first and goal. Two plays later, Murray was in the end zone making a T with his arms, and the rout was on.

Play 2: Bengals ball, 3rd & 6 at the Cincinnati 23. First quarter, 6:05 remaining. (Shotgun) A.Dalton pass short middle intended for A.Erickson INTERCEPTED by E.Kendricks at CIN 31. E.Kendricks for 31 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

The Vikings were due for one of these.

After seemingly relying on the defense to score most of their touchdowns in 2016, the 2017 defense finally found pay dirt thanks to Eric Kendricks. Dalton must have assumed that Kendricks was following Brandon LaFell on the crossing route, but the linebacker stayed put and Dalton threw it right to him. Anthony Barr helped clear the way for his old UCLA teammate and the Vikings were up two scores early.

Play 3: Bengals ball, 4th & 1 at the Cincinnati 38. First quarter, 3:46 remaining. G.Bernard right guard to CIN 38 for no gain (B.Gedeon; E.Kendricks).

Marvin Lewis YOLO alert!

Even if Lewis isn’t actually a dead coach walking, the decision was defensible. Choosing to go for it on fourth and short in your own territory is a risk, but when you’re already down 14-0 in the first quarter it’s worth a shot. What wasn’t defensible was the play call.

In short yardage and goal-to-go situations, misdirection and motion is key. Since the defense has less real estate to cover, getting them to lean the wrong way is important. So what did the Bengals do? They lined up in a big set with absolutely zero pre-snap motion against one of the best rushing defenses in the league in front of their frenzied home crowd. The result was incredibly predictable. Even though the Vikings didn’t get a first down on the ensuing drive, they still got a upright-clanging 53-yard field goal from Kai Forbath. The home team was up by three scores with less than 15 minutes gone, and they were far from done.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 2nd & 16 at the Cincinnati 20. Second quarter, 6:47 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass deep right to S.Diggs for 20 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Again, despite having only three incompletions, Keenum wasn’t exactly perfect on Sunday. This touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs, however, was pure perfection.

After a Jarius Wright holding penalty negated a first and goal, Keenum tossed an absolute dime between the corner and safety for the score. That is a playoff-caliber throw right there. The Vikings took their 24-0 lead into halftime and were able to give their backups a bunch of time at the end of their comfortable win.

Including one very notable backup.

Play 5: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 16. Fourth quarter, 10:38 remaining. J.McKinnon up the middle to MIN 25 for 9 yards (C.Fejedelem). MIN-J.Wright was injured during the play.

A 9-yard run late in a blowout usually wouldn’t stand a chance in making a list of biggest plays. But this was the most meaningful meaningless play of the season.

Teddy Bridgewater made his first NFL appearance in nearly two years, completing his comeback from a devastating knee injury. Teddy’s return didn’t exactly have a storybook ending—he went 0 for 2 with an interception—but seeing him back playing football again was a beautiful sight to behold. It was an incredible moment to witness in person; it may have been the loudest I have ever heard US Bank Stadium get. Seeing the reactions of his teammates was extraordinary, especially Case Keenum.

It was a great way to punctuate a comprehensive home win.

The Vikings look like they’re going to be a tough out in the postseason. While clinching the division is always great, this team has loftier goals in mind. The dream is very much alive. As always, we welcome your input on which of these plays had the most impact in the poll below. If you think we missed a few others that should have been included, please add them in the comments.


What was the most important play of the Vikings' win over the Bengals?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Thielen’s third down reception
    (25 votes)
  • 59%
    Kendricks’ pick six
    (845 votes)
  • 6%
    The defense’s big stop on 4th and 1
    (89 votes)
  • 5%
    Keenum’s dime to Diggs
    (83 votes)
  • 26%
    (375 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (comment below)
    (12 votes)
1429 votes total Vote Now