Vikings claim NFC North title; Teddy returns to action

The Minnesota Vikings are heading to the postseason. The Vikings (11-3) clinched the NFC North title and the playoff berth that comes with it in a 34-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals (5-9) on Sunday. Here's what we learned from a game that also featured the return of Teddy Bridgewater.

  1. The Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North crown in resounding fashion. Mike Zimmer's squad dominated every phase of the game against the coach's former team. Minnesota earned its second division title in Zimmer's four-year tenure. Behind a devouring defense, chain-moving offense, and play-making special teams, Sunday's victory was essentially settled before the end of the first quarter. Moving to 11-3, the win keeps the Vikings in line for a potential first-round bye and possibly leapfrog the Carson Wentz-less Eagles for the top spot in the NFC. With games against the Packers and Bears left, Zimmer's well-oiled machine is in a great position to become the first team in NFL history to play a home game in the Super Bowl.
  1. Case Keenum took a soft sack by Geno Atkins to open the game. The Vikings breezed from there, taking the opening drive 75 yards in nine plays for a Latavius Murray TD plunge. Minnesota needed little more to pummel the Bengals (5-9). Keenum peppered a banged-up Cincinnati defense for big plays, including five of 20-plus yards in the first half alone (one rushing). The Bengals' decimated linebacking corps had no answer for Jerick McKinnon in space. The shifty back earned receptions of 41, 31, and 29 yards en route to a 7-catch, 114-yard day (the Vikes' first 100-yard receiving game from an RB since 2004).
  1. The blowout allowed Teddy Bridgewater to make his first regular-season appearance in 714 days. The quarterback, who missed all of 2016 with a devastating knee injury, took over to rambunctious cheers from the home crowd with just under 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater mostly entered to hand off and get his feet wet after missing more than a year. Teddy's first pass tipped off McKinnon's hands for an interception. His second attempt was dropped by Michael Floyd. It was fantastic to see the former franchise quarterback return to the playing field. A year ago nobody knew if this day was even possible.
  1. Marvin Lewis and the Bengalsmutually agreed to end his 15-year coaching run after the 2017 season, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning. The Lewis era is limping to the finish. The injury-ravaged Bengals no-showed from the start in a whitewash in Minnesota. Andy Dalton continued his atrocious close to the year, tossing a brutal pick-six to Eric Kendricks and another INT to Terence Newman. Both were forced into heavy coverage. The Vikings' smothering D allowed Cincy to convert just one first down in the first half. With Xavier Rhodes blanketing A.J. Green (2/30), Dalton had zero answers and was benched in a blowout for the second consecutive week. You would think it's possible AJ McCarron could take over the final two weeks of the season, but during a post-game presser, Lewis told reporters that he won't consider it. Sunday's flop included a bevy of Bengals penalties, botched plays, missed tackles, busted coverages and pathetic efforts. For a coach with one foot out the door, it was one of the most poorly prepared performances by any team this season.
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