When Vikings coach Mike Zimmer looked at the statistics from Sunday’s 34-7 victory over Cincinnati, he had to be pleased with everything he saw. It was a nearly flawless game that clinched him his second NFC North title in three seasons.
Case Keenum completed 20 of 23 passes, with the 87.0 completion percentage the NFL’s highest mark this season with at least 20 attempts, and he threw for two touchdowns with no interceptions, bouncing back from a tough game at Carolina last week.
“He really is taking good care of the football, making the correct throws, moving in the pocket well,” Zimmer said. “He’s doing a nice job and continues to do a good job.”
The running backs were the most balanced they have been all season. Latavius Murray carried 20 times for 76 yards and a score, and Jerick McKinnon exploded out of the backfield with a team-high seven receptions for 114 yards.
“Jerick did a nice job,” Zimmer said. “They had some young linebackers in there and one of the things [offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur] was trying to do was get them isolated a little bit on the backs. We hit them on a couple of screens. All of those things were good, nice easy throws for Case. They have a good defensive line and I think they had 36 sacks coming into the ballgame and we did a good job with them.”
And Murray? “He’s doing a nice job of running with physicality. I know he had one touchdown run in there today and he got some big first downs for us,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to continue to need him as the weather changes and we go forward.”
The offense also got a nice surprise when tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was doubtful all week, came out and played and had two receptions and a score.
“I didn’t think he would make it today,” Zimmer said. “But he went out and ran some routes on Saturday and said, ‘I’m ready to go.’ We had to upgrade him, and obviously he played well.”
The most impressive defensive performance by the Vikings this season came when they dominated the Los Angeles Rams, one of the league’s best offensive teams, holding the NFC West leaders to seven points and 254 yards in Week 11. That same Rams team absolutely destroyed the Seahawks on Sunday, winning 42-7 in Seattle.
The Bengals are not that kind of quality foe, but the fact that Cincinnati was held to 161 yards, by far the lowest total for a Vikings opponent this season, showed how ready this defense was after it gave up 345 yards and 38 points last week at Carolina. In the first half the Vikings basically put the game away, outgaining the Bengals 209-42 while Cincinnati managed only one first down.
“They were on point. I think they studied a little extra this week, prepared a little extra, I was proud of the way they rebounded after the loss the week before,” Zimmer said of his defense. “It’s important for this team to go out and do the right thing, and we did it today.”
With a comfortable lead in the second half, the Vikings finally got a chance to get Teddy Bridgewater in a game for the first time since his serious leg injury before the start of the 2016 season. Bridgewater’s first pass was tipped and intercepted, leading to Cincinnati’s only points, but that blemish hardly mattered with the game well in hand.
Zimmer said he would have no hesitation putting Bridgewater in a more meaningful spot, but he was happy he got a chance to do it Sunday in a blowout.
“I love Teddy. I thought it was good for him to get in the game,” Zimmer said. “Every new experience he has after this injury is another learning experience for him.
“I haven’t decided anything yet, as far as going down the road. But we’ll see how it goes. I think it is great for him to go out there and get some reps.”
And yes, while I had predicted that Bridgewater wouldn’t play this season, I didn’t mean that he wouldn’t ever make an appearance on the field, as he did in his rousing return Sunday, but rather that Bridgewater wouldn’t start over Keenum. And I still think that will remain true the rest of the season, unless Keenum gets hurt.
The Vikings remain in a dogfight in the NFC playoff picture. With the Eagles, Saints, Panthers and Rams all winning as well Sunday, the Vikings have a one-game lead for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye with two games to play. They trail Philadelphia by one game for the No. 1 seed, but the Eagles would have to lose at home to both the Raiders and Cowboys to give the Vikings a shot. Even without Carson Wentz, that isn’t happening.
“It’s important we go out and win next week and try to win from there,” Zimmer said. “It’s really now about seeding and trying to get as many wins as we can. We would love to be in front of our fans and never have to leave this place again.
“We’re playing for a lot, still. I think it’s important that even if we were solid in what we’re doing [with playoff seeding], to stay with the momentum, continue to do things the correct way and build some momentum going into the playoffs.”
• Bridgewater on hearing his name chanted inside U.S. Bank Stadium: “It was great. It was even better seeing Case leading the chant. Case is an awesome guy, and to see him standing behind me was just amazing.”
• Defensive lineman Brian Robison recorded two sacks in a game for the first time since he did it against Houston in Week 5 last season. “It’s not about me, it’s about these guys around me,” he said. “I’m proud of these guys, and hopefully we can just keep this journey going.”
• Kai Forbath went 2-for-2 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points. His 53-yard kick in the first quarter gave him six field goals of at least 50 yards this season, tied for second most in team history.
• McKinnon’s 114 receiving yards were the most by a Vikings running back since Moe Williams had 126 in 2003. “It’s a good feeling, but there is a lot of roles that take part in that,” McKinnon said.
• Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who finished with five receptions for 30 yards and a score, on facing the Packers in an important game at Lambeau Field on Saturday: “We have a short week, but they have a short week, too. I’m just excited to get back out to playing football.” The last time the Vikings swept the season series from Green Bay? 2009, on their way to the NFC Championship Game.
• And to talk about another football team, the Gophers have the No. 1 2018 recruiting class in the Big Ten West, according to Rivals.com. Their recruiting class ranks fifth in the Big Ten overall.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org