With the new Star Wars movie in theaters now, it seems only appropriate to remember the words of Darth Vader as he prepared to face Obi-Wan Kenobi in battle:
“I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.”
Sunday will mark the first meeting between the two coaches since Zimmer’s departure, and it is his Vikings who are near the top of the football world while the Bengals are struggling to avoid their second straight losing season.
The two teams have played each other sparingly throughout the years, with a series that began in 1973 tied at six wins apiece. The Bengals won the last meeting in 2013 by a 42-14 margin in Paul Brown Stadium.
Most of the meetings between these teams have not carried a lot of meaning, but one that did came in 1989 when the Vikings were fighting for control of the NFC Central and the Bengals, coming off of their Super Bowl season of 1988, needed a win in order to make it back to the playoffs.
For Cincinnati, it was not to be. The Vikings, on the strength of five Rich Karlis field goals, took advantage of six Bengals’ turnovers en route to a 29-21 victory that sent Pittsburgh into the AFC wild card game and sent Cincinnati home.
Karlis booted field goals of 31, 37, 22, 42 and 24 yards in the first half, and Vikings’ quarterback Wade Wilson threw for 264 yards in the first two quarters alone. Minnesota went into halftime with a 22-7 lead before the Bengals mounted a comeback.
Boomer Esiason threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Holman on the third play of the third quarter, then hit Craig Taylor with an 18-yard scoring strike to cut the lead to 22-21 with just over eight minutes left.
But the Vikings responded with a 67-yard drive that was aided by 27 yards in penalties against the Bengals (fancy that!) and finally put the game out of reach when Wilson hit tight end Brent Novoselsky with a 1-yard touchdown pass with just over four minutes remaining.
Esiason finished the day with 31 completions in 54 attempts for 367 yards, but was sacked six times by the Vikings’ league-leading defense, which got three sacks from Chris Coleman and 2 ½ sacks from Henry Thomas. Minnesota intercepted Esiason three times and forced three fumbles.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, nothing is at stake Sunday but positioning for the 2018 NFL Draft. Cincinnati would love to play the role of spoiler to the Vikings, who own a record of 10-3 but are coming off of a disappointing 31-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
A Minnesota win would give the Vikings the NFC North crown and ensure a return to the playoffs. It would also keep them in the race for homefield advantage in the playoffs. A loss would delay the inevitable for at least one more week.