Cincinnati has been known for playing down to their opponents, but this wasn't one of those examples. It really wasn't much of a contest.
On a day with decreasing temperatures, the Bengals got hot early, easily claiming momentum for their tenth win of the season with a 42-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It's the fourth straight game that Cincinnati scored 40 points or more at home and the eighth consecutive win at home dating back to last season. And the win gives Cincinnati their tenth win for only the tenth time in franchise history -- and in consecutive seasons, a first since '75-76.
More importantly, Cincinnati clinches a postseason berth with the Bills defeating the Miami Dolphins 19-0 in Buffalo. It's the third consecutive season that the Bengals have earned a postseason berth, a new franchise mark. The Bengals can clinch the AFC North later on Sunday afternoon if the New England Patriots defeat the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals path towards Sunday's win began early.
With 13:37 remaining in the first, the defense (predictably) got things rolling for the Bengals when Mike Zimmer brought seven on third and six from Cincinnati's 45-yard line. Reggie Nelson arrived first but linebacker Vincent Rey hit and wrapped quarterback Matt Cassel, stripping the football away. As if time stood still, the football rolled towards Cincinnati's endzone when Carlos Dunlap dug into a sprinter's stance, scooping the football and returning it 42 yards to the Vikings four-yard line. BenJarvus Green-Ellis gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead on a four-yard touchdown with 13:17 remaining in the first.
Yet, Cincinnati's early turnover advantage was neutralized when Jermaine Gresham's 22-yard reception resulted in a lost fumble at Minnesota's 46-yard line. Minnesota, gladly accepting endless wrapped presents from Gresham, took advantage. Three plays later, Jarius Wright ran an out-and-up, utterly confusing Dre Kirkpatrick into biting on the first move, allowing Wright to easily catch the 36-yard touchdown pass on the go-route to tie the game at seven with 10:10 remaining in the first.
And then Cincinnati began scoring like mad.
With 6:18 remaining in the first, Cincinnati opened the possession from their own 10-yard line. By the tenth play of the 90-yard possession, Andy Dalton beautifully eased the football to A.J. Green for a 29-yard touchdown and 14-7 lead with 57 seconds remaining in the first. The Bengals and Vikings exchanged punts when Matt Cassel tried to laser the football to Greg Jennings. Vincent Rey, reading the quarterback's eyes, steps in front of the football and returns the interception 25-yard for the touchdown. Bengals have a 21-7 lead.
Cincinnati took over at the Vikings 44-yard line, after a Brandon Tate 21-yard punt return, with 5:31 remaining in the second. The Bengals concluded the possession on Andy Dalton's zip-line 19-yard touchdown throw to Jermaine Gresham with 2:28 remaining to take a 28-7 lead.
The Bengals extended their lead 35-7 on an 80-yard possession, capped by a Mohamed Sanu seven-yard touchdown reception after Giovani Bernard's magical 41-yard screen pass. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Bengals strung together another 71-yard drive, opening the floodgates with an A.J. Green two-yard touchdown and a 42-7 lead with 3:26 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bengals will host the Baltimore Ravens in the regular season finale. Depending on Baltimore's performance against the Patriots, it could for the AFC North championship and even the No. 2 seed (if the Bills beat the Patriots and the Bengals beat the Ravens).