Vikings coach Brad Childress finished conducting his mass postgame interview in the anterooms of the Metrodome and strolled toward the locker room just as Jared Allen emerged, wearing a large cowboy hat, jeans and boots, looking like the villain in a Clint Eastwood western.

Childress had just finished absolving Allen of a sideline confrontation with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Now Childress stopped, nodded and asked, "How you doing, cowboy? You cool down?"

Allen looked up from his phone and said, "Oh, yeah, boss, it's all good."

Childress the reformed disciplinarian and Allen the unrepentant free spirit chatted until defensive tackle Pat Williams, the Round Mound of Indistinguishable Sound, burst through the doors wearing a T-shirt remindful of Mardi Gras.

A half-hour earlier, as the clock ran out on the Vikings' dominating 30-10 victory over Cincinnati, Williams had wrapped his arm around Childress in congratulations. Now this unusual trio passed the time as if they had grown up on the same block. "Oh, this group is absolutely diverse," Childress said after he stepped back into the locker room. "That's the challenge."

The Vikings' game against the Bengals on Sunday can't be described as the most important or difficult challenge of the season, but it might have ranked as the most revealing. For the first time this season, the Vikings were coming off an embarrassing performance (in Arizona), a devastating injury (to E.J. Henderson) and a horrid performance by their quarterback (the graybeard who endorses everything but razors).

Beating a playoff team by 20 points became the aromatic candle of victories. It didn't change anything, just left everyone in the room feeling more peaceful. "Nobody liked the way we did it last week," Childress said. "The only way to get that taste out of your mouth is to get back on the field and play the way we know how."

In the team meeting Saturday night, Childress, always searching for an apt analogy, compared the Bengals game to a successful pit stop in NASCAR. "It was strange," Brett Favre said. "Hey, you never know with Brad."

Childress said that he "stood up after that film and said, 'Now, guys, I'm not a great big fan of NASCAR, but I am a fan of teamwork.' And those guys do it well. We needed to get back in the race. The faster we pit, the faster we go."

He also said: "What I know about NASCAR, you could fit up an ant's [posterior]."

Football offers so much time for analysis -- between games, and between plays -- that followers of good teams tend to nitpick.

What we should recognize about the Vikings, regardless of their performance in Arizona, is that this is an 11-2 team that is also 4-1 against teams with winning records, a team with as complete and balanced a roster as there is in the NFL.

Sunday, Favre, after looking shaky early, ran the offense with the kind of poise and reserve he's often abandoned in recent Decembers.

Adrian Peterson, playing against an excellent defense, displayed a couple of bursts of speed indicating he's as healthy as can be expected on Dec. 13.

Antoine Winfield returned and drew raves for his ability to read, and destroy, plays.

And two rookies forced to start on defense -- middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and safety Jamarca Sanford -- filled in competently, helping hold Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer to 94 passing yards.

If not for personal foul penalties against Kevin Williams and Cedric Griffin that set up Bengal scores, this would have become even more of a rout.

"Sometimes, you do wonder what will happen if you lose," Favre said. "I don't know if there is ever really a good loss, but I thought the way we responded was good. ...

"I mean, I was concerned. I think a lot of people were concerned about this game because we knew how good they were, and if we didn't rise up to the challenge after a tough loss, then it was going to be two in a row."

The Vikings have flaws, flaws a good passing team and a physical defensive front can expose. They also have an 11-2 record, a healthy Favre and Peterson and a favorable schedule.

Childress might be able to save his water polo speech for the playoffs.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday, and 6:40 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. •