After a busy morning for Bengals fans in which we learned Marvin Lewis plans to step aside as head coach following the 2017 NFL season, the Bengals were completely embarrassed by the Vikings and former offensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Lewis lost his first game to any of his former assistants by a humiliating 34-7 score, with the only Bengals touchdown coming in garbage time and with AJ McCarron at quarterback.
After having a great game against the Bears, Giovani Bernard only averaged two yards per carry agains the Vikings. With no touchdowns and two interceptions, Andy Dalton’s quarterback rating was a lowly 27.3, which is his lowest of the season (yes, even lower than his four interception game against the Ravens).
If Bill Lazor or Paul Guenther wanted to throw their hats in the ring, they did not give a good showing this game.
Not much went right for the banged-up Bengals defense on the first drive of the game. Geno Atkins sacked Case Keenum for nine yards on the first play (mostly due to Keenum tripping), but missed tackle after blown coverage made sure the Vikings wouldn’t have to pay for it. The second play from scrimmage was a second-and-19 screen to Latavius Murray that was good for 28 yards. The Bengals tried to turn up the pressure, but Keenum escaped and scrambled for 20 yards. On the only third down of the drive, Adam Thielen was wide open on a cross pattern that he took for 21 yards. The possession ended when Murray pounded the ball across the goal line from the one-yard-line with 10:31 left in the first quarter. Kai Forbath’s extra point was good, and the Vikings took an early 7-0 lead.
The starting defensive unit composed of Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson, Vincent Rey, Josh Shaw and Clayton Fejedelem were exposed early. Starting safety George Iloka was injured on the next drive, meaning that a lot of young players would be tested during this game. He would come back in before being ruled out for good.
The Bengals and Vikings would trade three-and-outs, with the Bengals eventually getting the ball at the 19-yard line. On the ensuing third down, Andy Dalton threw a ball into traffic and Eric Kendricks came away with the interception. He returned it 31 yards and dove into the endzone for a touchdown. With 5:54 left in the first quarter and after another extra point from Forbath, the Vikings led 14-0.
In search of a first down, the Bengals handed the ball off to Giovani Bernard three times for a total of nine yards. Now without a plan for future employment, Marvin Lewis decided with reckless abandon to go for it on fourth down. Bernard carries the ball for the fourth straight time, but he still couldn’t pass the line to gain. With 3:40 left in the first quarter, the Vikings took over at the Bengals’ 38-yard line.
Even though Pat Sims tackled Jerrick McKinnon for a three yard loss and Atkins sacked Keenum (his second of the game) for another five, Kyle Rudolph hauled in a 16-yard reception to set up a Forbath field goal. With 1:35 remaining in the first quarter, the Vikings had used their great field position to widen the gap 17-0.
Trading punts again, A.J. Green finally caught a reception almost three minutes into the second quarter. His catch resulted in the first first down of the game for the Bengals’ offense, after going three-and-out twice, throwing an intereception, and turning the ball over on downs before moving the sticks.
The @Bengals failed to convert a first down in the first quarter, their 3rd straight game with 0 first downs in a single quarter— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 17, 2017
The Bengals punted three plays later, showing that the one first down was about all they could manage.
When the Vikings took over, McKinnon broke out for a 41-yard catch on third down to take the Vikings down to the Bengals’ 28-yard line. A pass interference penalty from Rey extended the drive and Keenum would end the drive with a 20 yard bullet to Stefon Diggs. After the touchdown and the extra point from Forbath, the Vikings jumped out to a 24-0 lead with 6:41 left in the second quarter.
The Bengals looked helpless in all phases of offense. The running game was nonexistent, the passing game yeilded more Vikings points than Bengals, and the offensive line had already given up three sacks.
In addition, the defense let the Vikings receivers run free in the secondary and missed tackles all over the field. Despite missing all seven regular starters among the linebackers and secondary, the Bengals gave up 24 points in the first half as the offense laid a goose egg on the scoreboard.
The Bengals received the second half kickoff and went straight to Green for a 16-yard pass, which, at that point, was the longest play of the game from scrimmage for the Bengals. The next two passes went to Tyler Kroft, who many Bengals fans hoped would turn into Tyler Eifert Jr., but was tackled for a five yard loss on the first pass and dropped the second one. Kroft was past the line to gain when he dropped the pass, which set up a a third and fifteen shovel pass to Bernard. Though Bernard was close, he was short of the first down, so the Bengals punted the ball away to start the second half.
The Vikings continued to do what they did in the first half by following up minimal gains by exploiting the Bengals’ decimated defense. The defense was so mixed up that they gave up a 29-yard throw-back pass to McKinnon while also leaving the entire left side of the field wide open. Fortunately, the Vikings couldn’t use that momentum to score a touchdown, but Forbath was able to knock through a 35-yard kick to extend the lead 27-0. The Bengals would get the ball back with 6:34 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the drive, Dalton threw an interception to former Bengals cornerback Terence Newman. The 39-year-old defensive back had been all over Brandon LaFell throughout the game and finally hauled in his first interception of the year.
On the next drive, broken coverage and a Shawn Williams facemask penalty added on to the end of a 31-yard pass to McKinnon. A few plays later, Darqueze Dennard added a pass inference penalty in the end zone that put the ball on the one-yard line. From there, Keenum floated an easy pass to a wide open Kyle Rudolph, a Cincinnati native, who celebrated by doing the Icky Shuffle. OUCH.
Forbath’s extra point put the Vikings even further ahead of the Bengals, 34-0 with 12:53 left in the game.
The Bengals punted again, and, sufficient with a 34-0 lead, the Vikings sent Teddy Bridgewater out to finish the game. This was a HUGE moment for the Vikings and Bridgewater as the Vikings quarterback hadn’t played since the 2015 season due to a serious knee injury suffered in the summer of 2016. The crowd went nuts, and rightfully so.
This—for better or worse—gave the Bengals an opportunity to make some magic on defense against a rusty quarterback who had not played a snap in years in a regular season game. Williams opportunely picked off Bridgewater to give the Bengals the ball inside Minnesota territory for only the second time in this game.
AJ McCarron came on to lead the Bengals to their first scoring drive of the game, late in the fourth quarter. With him came running back Brian Hill, too, though soon after, Hill went down with an injury. But first, Hill came had two carries to give way for Bernard to run the ball into the end zone. His first rushing touchdown of the year, a one-yard run, finally put the Bengals on the scoreboard with 6:22 left in the game (he’s had two receiving touchdowns this year, but no rushing touchdowns). Randy Bullock’s extra point was good, and the Bengals cut the margin to only 27 points at 34-7 and avoided a shutout.
While the Vikings would go on to fight for a first round bye in the playoffs, the Bengals fell to 5-9. The Bengals will play the Lions next week in Paul Brown Stadium for their third straight contest against an NFC North team and their final home game. The team then finishes the year in Baltimore against the Ravens.