In a game expected to be physical, the Vikings did everything just a little bit better than the Bengals.
They converted a few more first downs, rushed for more yards, passed for more yards, played more solid defense and special teams, and had a couple fewer penalties in a flag-throwing festival. It all added up to a 30-10 Vikings win to clinch their second straight playoff appearance.
The bruises of what started out as a grudge match with a scoreless first quarter turned more purple as the game wore on. The Vikings committed to the running game with 26 carries for 97 yards for Adrian Peterson with a relatively quiet game from Brett Favre, who completed 17 of 30 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 73.2 rating.
Minnesota had only a 10-7 lead with less than four minutes to play in the first half, but two Ryan Longwell field goals expanded that lead to 16-7 at the half and a touchdown drive to open the second half started to put the game out of reach with Minnesota holding a 23-7 lead.
Neither team had an individual put up big numbers, giving credence to the physical and defensive nature of the game, but with a lead in hand the Vikings were able to continue to run the ball, work the clock and work Peterson into two touchdowns to bring his season total to a franchise-record 14 rushing touchdowns.
Bernard Berrian led the Vikings with 43 yards receiving and Chad Ochocinco led the Bengals with 27 yards. Thanks to a 42-yard run by Cedric Benson toward the end of the third quarter, he finished the game with 96 yards rushing, but with the Bengals' deficit growing, he rushed only three times for four yards in the second half. That allowed the Vikings defense to extend its streak to 36 games without an individual rushing for 100 yards in a game.
The Vikings had even more success against QB Carson Palmer, who was limited to an incredible 94 yards passing with one touchdown and no interceptions. Linebacker Ben Leber credited early pressure to changing Palmer's rhythm.
That started with Brian Robison, who ended the Bengals' first drive with a third-down sack – the Vikings' only sack of the game – and the teams took turns trading possessions throughout much for the first quarter. The Vikings had two possessions cross midfield, with Favre ending one with an interception as he got hammered and the other carrying into the second quarter.
That was the drive in which the Vikings broke the ice in the game. They started with a large dose of Peterson, who ran on the first four snaps of the drive and gained a combined 23 yards across midfield. When Greg Lewis caught a pass that was deflected twice for an 18-yard gain, the Vikings were in scoring position. Three plays later, Longwell scored the first points of the game with a 41-yard field goal 32 seconds into the second quarter.
The defense continued to play well, giving up one first down before forcing the Bengals' fourth punt of the game, and after an 18-yard return by Darius Reynaud and a 15-yard late-hit penalty on LB Rey Maualuga the Vikings were setting up their offense on the Cincinnati 43-yard line. They put themselves in an early hole with two false start penalties, but Peterson made it right with a 28-yard pass reception to the 11-yard line. Facing third-and-8, Favre pump-faked to the right flat and came back to the middle of the field to hit Sidney Rice for a 9-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
This time, the Bengals responded with an impressive drive. Palmer started by hitting WR Chad Ochocinco for a 12-yard gain and Benson did much of the damage from there – rushing for 26 yards on three carries. Facing first-and-10 from the 15, the Bengals used a well-designed play, sending Ochocinco in motion to the middle of the formation to draw Winfield in and then slipping him a pass back into the flat. He had all kinds of green in front of him and covered it quickly for a touchdown to cut the Vikings lead to 10-7 with 3:56 left in the first half.
The Vikings responded as well. They picked up one first down on a Peterson run and moved across midfield when DT Pat Sims grabbed Peterson's facemask for a 15-yard penalty. Favre got inside the red zone with passes of 8 and 13 yards to Peterson and Shiancoe, respectively, but they couldn't finish the drive with a touchdown. Longwell extended the lead to 13-7 with a 23-yard field goal with 35 seconds left.
Surprisingly, Longwell got another chance when Brian Leonard fumbled after catching a short pass and taking a big hit by Antoine Winfield. When Chad Greenway recovered with four seconds left, Longwell booted a 44-yard field goal for a 16-7 halftime lead.
The Bengals only added to their troubles to start the third quarter. They kicked off out of bounds but looked like they would have the Vikings stopped at midfield on third-and-17, but when Favre hit Chester Taylor in stride for a 26-yard completion they were in scoring position. On the next play, Taylor carried 17 yards to the 8-yard line and Peterson did the rest. The starting running back started with a 5-yard run, then dove over the pile on the next two downs, capping the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge for a 23-7 Vikings lead midway through the third quarter.
After trading punts, Cedric Benson highlighted a Bengals field goal drive with a 42-yard run, but Shayne Graham's 22-yard field goal was the final score the Bengals would manage, pulling them within 13 points of the Vikings, 23-10.
After another exchange of punts, the Vikings scored the knockout punch of the physical contest. Mixed in between intermediate Peterson runs, Favre hit Rice for 7 yards, Bernard Berrian for 19 and 9 and Rice for 7 more, moving inside the 5-yard line. Peterson capped the drive with a 3-yard run and the Vikings had a 30-10 lead with 3:24 to play.
That touchdown gave Peterson the franchise record for most touchdowns (14) in a season, clinched a playoff berth for the Vikings and gave Brad Childress a personal-best 11 wins as a head coach.
Vikings rebound for 30-10 win
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