Coming off by far their worst game of the season, Antoine Winfield's return helped spark one of the Vikings' best defensive efforts of the season in a 30-10 beatdown of the Cincinnati Bengals. See what he and others had to say, and get more than 30 notes that help tell the tale of the game.
It was a long time coming for Vikings fans to see Antoine Winfield
on the field for a game. It was just short of two months ago when Winfield was last on the field for a game, suffering a foot injury against the Ravens Oct. 18. He made his return to action Sunday and made his presence felt.
Winfield led all players with nine tackles (all solo tackles) and forced a fumble that led to an improbable three points in the final seconds of the first half. From the broad grin on his face following the game, it was clear Winfield was as happy to be back as his teammates were to have him on the field again.
"It was tough," said Winfield of missing the last six games. "The only good thing about it was that we were winning. It felt great to get out there and some big hits in. I had a few today. I feel it right now. I'm going to be sore tomorrow, but, oh well, we got a win."
Winfield made his presence felt early, helicoptering Bengals running back Brian Leonard
in the first quarter for no gain on a designed screen and making a couple other big hits that have become his trademark. However, it was a play he didn't make that stood out the most to him following the game.
With the Vikings leading 3-0 early in the second quarter, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer
mistimed a route with wide receiver Chad Ochocinco
that sailed and hit Winfield right between the "2" and the "6" – turning a sure interception and a potential touchdown into an incompletion.
Winfield, acting on instinct, dropped to the turf in between plays and did 10 pushups – the standard penance for a dropped pass in practice. Appreciative of his contrition, the Metrodome crowd gave Winfield a huge ovation. Asked after the game what he remembered most – the big hits, the forced fumble or the dropped interception – Winfield was concise.
"Of course, the dropped interception," Winfield said. "It hit me right in the chest. I have to make that play. I got my 10 push-ups in. It was automatic. I didn't even think about it (being between plays during a game). In practice when you drop a ball you automatically go down and do 10 pushups."
Winfield's return to lineup helped provide a spark the Vikings sorely needed after laying a huge egg against the Cardinals last week and his teammates were more than happy to finally see No. 26 back on the field doing what he does best.
"I'm so happy for him," linebacker Ben Leber
said. "I know how frustrated he was being stuck in the trainer's room for so long. It was great to have him back throwing his body around. It was the same old Antoine."
GAME DAY NOTES
With Sunday's win, the Vikings clinched a berth in the NFC playoffs. With any combination of a Vikings win or a Packers loss in the final three weeks, they will lock down their second straight NFC North Division title.
With Sunday's win, the Vikings have won eight regular-season games in a row at home, dating back to the NFC North-clinching win over the Giants last year.
The Vikings earned their 11th win of the season Sunday – the most in a season since they won 11 games in 2000.
Both defenses came into Sunday's game at the top of the charts in terms of not letting opponents convert third downs into first downs. The Vikings won that category Sunday. The Vikings converted eight of 14 third-down opportunities (57 percent), while the Bengals converted six of 14 chances (43 percent).
The Vikings had five more rushing plays (37) than pass plays (32) Sunday – one of the few times this season the team has run more times than it passed.
As a team, the Bengals had more yards rushing (119) than passing (91). Sunday was just the third time in his career that Palmer was held under 100 yards passing. He completed 15 of 25 passes for just 94 yards.
Neither coach could be happy with the penalties that were called Sunday. There were a total of 20 in the game – 11 on the Bengals and nine on the Vikings – not to mention a handful of others that were either declined or offsetting penalties.
The Vikings have been hitting on 60 percent of their red zone opportunities by cashing in touchdowns. That didn't change Sunday, as the team scored three TDs on five red zone opportunities.
The Bengals came as close as anyone has to snapping the Vikings' streak of consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Cedric Benson finished the game with 16 carries for 96 yards. He was at 96 yards with 13 minutes to play in the game, but didn't have a rushing attempt in the final two possessions, as the Bengals were passing to try to get back into the game.
Adrian Peterson also fell just slightly short of the 100-yard mark himself, finishing the game with 26 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
Brett Favre had one of his lower passer-rating days of the season, completing 17 of 30 passes for 192 yards with one touchdown and one interception – for a passer rating of 73.2.
Neither team had a player with more than four receptions or 43 yards. Bernard Berrian led all receivers with four catches for 43 yards. Andre Caldwell was the only Bengal with four receptions and Chad Ochocinco, who had promised a touchdown celebration if he scored, led the Bengals with 27 receiving yards. He did score, but went peacefully to the sidelines, where head coach Marvin Lewis was waiting for him and ushered him to the bench area before he could find any props to help in his post-touchdown performance.
The Vikings punted only three times Sunday – once in the first half and once each in the third and fourth quarters when they were comfortably ahead. The Bengals had just six yards in punt returns.
Darius Reynaud had a productive day returning punts and kicks. He averaged 27 yards on two kickoff returns and 12 yards on five punt returns.
Of their 10 offensive drives during the game, all but one of the Bengals drives started from beyond their own 30-yard line – and that one started at their 31. The Vikings' 11 possessions, eight of them started from their own 30 or beyond, including two in Cincinnati territory.
Jasper Brinkley got his first NFL start at middle linebacker and said he was pleased with his performance, which included three tackles.
"This was something you dream about – starting in the NFL," Brinkley said. "My wish came true today. Playing a physical team like Cincinnati, we knew we had to out-physical them. I was very comfortable out there. It was second nature to me once the game got started."
Leber also applauded Brinkley's performance, saying the Vikings were looking for a spark after a lackluster performance against the Cardinals the previous week.
"We wanted to prove that last week was a fluke," Leber said. "We are a great team and how we played last week didn't show that. You don't want to lose two games in a row in December. It was important to come out and play well. I think we did that today."
Madieu Williams was playing his former team for the first time since signing with the Vikings as a free agent two years ago. He said he didn't get too caught up in playing against his former teammates and coaching staff.
"It was business as usual for me," Williams said. "I don't get caught up in any of the talk. I'm a Viking and they were an opponent. It was just another day at the office for me."
The Vikings had just one sack Sunday, but were able to pressure Palmer into throwing a couple of passes away, to hurry a handful of throws and scramble four times.
Running back Larry Johnson made almost no contribution to the Bengals offense. He rushed just three times for four yards and caught one pass for six yards.
Vikings rookie safety Jamarca Sanford made his first career start and had a total of nine tackles – five solo and one assist on the defense and two solo tackles and one assist on special teams.
With his two touchdown runs in the second half, Peterson set a career high with 14 touchdowns on the season and broke the old franchise record of 13 rushing touchdowns, which had been done three times previously – by Chuck Foreman in 1975 and 1976 and Terry Allen in 1992.
Both teams converted four of eight third-down chances in the first half. The Vikings would convert four of six in the second half, while the Bengals converted just two of six chances in the second half.
Favre completed 11 of 20 passes in the first half for 118 yards with one TD and an interception for a passer rating of 68.3. Peterson led the way on the ground with 13 carries for 57 yards and was the leading receiver with three catches for 40 yards.
Palmer completed 10 of 18 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown in the first half, for a passer rating of 80.8. Benson had seven rushes for 41 yards and Ochocinco led the receivers with three catches for 27 yards. Palmer would have just 34 passing yards in the second half and Ochocinco didn't catch a pass in the second half.
Early in the second quarter, kicker Ryan Longwell passed a couple of milestones with a 41-yard field goal. He not only went over the 100-point plateau for the season, he also passed Pat Leahy (1,470 points) into 17th place on the all-time scoring list.
There is something about Greg Lewis and unorthodox catches. His first reception as a Viking was a diving toe drag in the back of the end zone in the final seconds that beat the 49ers early in the year. His second came Sunday in the first quarter on a pass intended for Bernard Berrian that bounced off his hands, off the hands of Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson and into the hands of Lewis for an 18-yard gain.
The completion to Lewis was the 6,000th completion of Favre's Hall of Fame career.
In the first quarter, Peterson surpassed Emmitt Smith into ninth on the all-time list for most rushing yards in the first three seasons of his NFL. Smith had 4,213 yards. Next in line is another Hall of Famer – Barry Sanders – at 4,322 yards. Peterson is at 4,301 yards in his career, including exactly 1,200 yards rushing this season.
On his next carry, Peterson broke off a 15-yard run that moved him into sixth place for the Vikings all-time rushing leaders, passing Darrin Nelson, who had 4,204 yards.
Peterson needed his yards on his final drive to remain in elite company with only the legendary Jim Brown in averaging more than 100 yards a game. In 43 career games, Peterson has 4,301 yards.
The Vikings remain perfect at home vs. the Bengals. They won their only meeting at Metropolitan Stadium and are now 4-0 at the Metrodome. They are 1-5 all-time in Cincinnati, holding a 6-5 advantage in the career series.
The crowd noise in the Metrodome affected the Bengals offense early. In their first two drives, they were called for three false start penalties, two of which set up a pair of third-and-longs – a third-and-14 and third-and-15, respectively. The Bengals converted neither and had to punt both times.
The team was without rookie Percy Harvin, who was inactive due to recurring migraine headaches. His role as kickoff returner was taken by Reynaud.
Vikings great Mick Tingelhoff sounded the ceremonial Gjallarhorn prior to the player introductions. Tingelhoff was put in the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2001.
The paid attendance was 63,854, the 124th straight sellout at the Metrodome dating back to 1998.