Case Keenum took a seat in Sunday’s fourth quarter with another efficient start and his ninth win in hand for the Vikings.
The journeyman quarterback now has his first career division title and, with a 34-7 victory over the Bengals, as many wins in Minnesota as he had in four seasons for the Texans and Rams. The win also guarantees Keenum will start his first career playoff game next month at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It feels awesome,” Keenum said. “This is uncharted territory for me, so I don’t take it lightly. I think we got a special group of guys.”
Keenum, who completed 20 of 23 throws for 236 yards and two touchdowns, found his groove again a week after taking six sacks in a loss at Carolina. Keenum He had a 138.4 passer rating at the controls of the Vikings’ conservative approach, which empowered its receivers and running backs to make plays after the catch.
The opening touchdown drive, with Latavius Murray’s 28-yard screen and Adam Thielen’s 21-yard sprint off a crossing route, embodied a rhythmic style that has often powered the Vikings through Keenum and coordinator Pat Shurmur.
And against a banged-up Bengals linebacker corps, Jerick McKinnon was primed for a big day in the passing game. Nearly all of McKinnon’s 138 yards (114) came off catches as he led the Vikings with seven receptions. The shifty back turned two quick grabs into big gains — for 29 yards and 41 yards — although on one, Keenum had another option downfield, according to coach Mike Zimmer.
“Case did a good job there,” Zimmer said. “He had [tight end] Kyle Carter wide open on the one that Jerick McKinnon caught in the flat and ran for quite a few yards, so he missed that one. It turned out well.”
Rudolph wanted to play
The Vikings wanted to originally rule out Kyle Rudolph on the final injury report, until the Pro Bowl tight end urged head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman not to. Rudolph couldn’t practice all week because of an ankle injury suffered in Carolina, but he went from being listed as doubtful to playing Sunday — and catching his eighth touchdown of the season. What changed?
“Forty-eight hours,” Rudolph said. “That’s all I asked. I just asked for a chance. To be ruled out Friday, there was still more time.”
Rudolph ran some routes for the Vikings on Saturday, according to Zimmer, which led to his upgrade to questionable before Sunday’s kickoff. He caught his only two targets for 17 yards and a touchdown.
Newman moves up
Terence Newman stepped into a bigger role against his former team, serving as the Vikings’ only nickel cornerback with Mackensie Alexander ruled out because of a rib injury. And Newman continued to be reliable as ever, reading Andy Dalton’s quick throw to jump a curl route for his 42nd career interception, first of this season.
Newman trails only DeAngelo Hall (43) of the Redskins for career picks among active NFL defenders.
“It is cool, but hopefully it is not the last one I get,” Newman said. “I want to have this conversation again and not be at 42 [career interceptions].”
Cincinnati entered Sunday down its three starting linebackers because of injury. Two more linebackers would need medical attention, including Bengals leading tackler Vincent Rey, who left after the first play of the fourth quarter. Bengals safety George Iloka and defensive tackle Andrew Billings also left the game because of injuries.
Vikings receiver Jarius Wright injured one of his feet and left in the fourth quarter.
• McKinnon’s 114 receiving yards marked the first 100-yard receiving day by a Vikings back since Onterrio Smith in 2004.
• Defensive end Brian Robison doubled his season sack total by twice taking down Dalton on back-to-back drives in the first half. Robison now has three sacks this season.