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Vikings dominate, 34-7

Posted Dec 17, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS - Kicking the game off with a report that head coach Marvin Lewis isn’t coming back for a 16th season, his offense went nearly on track for its worst performance in his 15 seasons when the Bengals promptly fell behind the Vikings, 24-0, in the game’s first 25 minutes generating all of 35 yards, a first down, three sacks and five three-and-outs on seven possessions on the way to a 34-7 loss.

MINNEAPOLIS - Kicking the game off with a report that head coach Marvin Lewis isn’t coming back for a 16th season, his offense went nearly on track for its worst performance in his 15 seasons when the Bengals promptly fell behind the Vikings, 24-0, in the game’s first 25 minutes generating all of 35 yards, a first down, three sacks and five three-and-outs on seven possessions on the way to a 34-7 loss.

The din of U.S. Bank Stadium provided a brutal bookend to last week’s 33-7 loss to the Bears at Paul Brown Stadium, marking their biggest back-to-back losses and fewest points in consecutive games since the Carson Palmer-less year of 2008 and the 34-3 and 35-3 losses to the Ravens and Colts.

 If the report didn’t open a can of worms, the game certainly did. It was the fifth time they failed to hit double-digits this season and they’re trending to score fewer points than the 2-14 Bengals in the 2002 season that gave rise to the Lewis Era. Their low under Lewis is 72 yards in a game they didn’t need to win, the 2009 finale against the Jets after they had already clinched the AFC North. They finished with 161 Sunday, one of the six worst outings since Lewis arrived in 2003. It was the third fewest in the Green-Dalton Era, two of them coming in the last six weeks with the 148 in Jacksonville.

The only one doing any clinching Sunday was Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, a Bengals’ old friend who  steered his team the NFC North Sunday in what very well should be a Coach of the Year season since he hasn’t had his starting quarterback from the first week.

Capping it off, of course, was the Cincinnati Kid, Vikings Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph catching a wide open one-yard touchdown pass to make it 34-0 with 12:53 left in the game and celebrating with the Bengals’ own iconic Ickey Shuffle.

The ironies abounded. The last time they were shut out that badly was 37-0 by a Marvin Lewis Baltimore defense in Bengals head coach Bruce Coslet’s last game on Sept. 24, 2000.   

The Bengals got buried immediately in Sunday’s first 13:30 with a pick-six, a 53-yard field goal, and a defense that didn’t allow a first quarter first down as Minnesota eased to a 17-0 lead.

The offense continued its miseries from last week. Quarterback Andy Dalton was a painful four of 10 for 38 yards in the first half. Wide receiver A.J. Green didn’t get his first target until their last play of the first quarter and that was an incompletion thrown past him as he jockeyed with cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Dalton’s first quarter? Two of six for 17 yards.  Green had just one catch for 14 yards on his only other target of the half.

The Bengals didn’t convert their first third down until three minutes left in the third quarter when wide receiver Brandon LaFell made a leaping 45-yard catch between two defenders down the middle that finally put them in Vikings territory for the first time all day. The drive died when Green couldn’t get his feet down in bounds after a catch.

The Bengals offered no resistance on the opening drive that consumed 75 yards in a little more than four minutes and lost another defensive starter in the process.

Nose tackle Andrew Billings limped off the field on a drive the Vikes pulled off three plays of at least 20 yards by basically attacking their back-up linebackers. Billings came back on the next series, but safety George Iloka left on that series when he hurt his left shoulder when he couldn’t secure an interception on the sidelines.

On second-and-20 rookie Jordan Evans couldn’t get off a block on a screen pass and running back Latavius Murray picked up 28 yards. Then quarterback Case Keenum got flushed out of the pocket and scrambled for 20 before he found wide-open wide receiver Adam Thielen on third-and-three crossing across the middle. Thielen, with his league-leading 31st catch on third down, didn’t get touched for 21 yards. That set up Murray’s one-yard touchdown run.

On the game’s first snap Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins picked up his eighth sack and the NFL lead among interior players. Atkins added another one late in the first quarter that set up a third-and-23 from the Vikes 49. But Rudolph picked up 16 yards down the seam that was enough for Kai Forbath to knock a 53-yarder off the left upright.

The Bengals went three-and-out on their first possession despite quarterback Dalton’s roll-out pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah picking up nine yards on first down.  Running back Giovani Bernard (14 carries for 30 yards in a Red Badge of Honor effort) got cut down for a loss on a run to the left edge and on third-and-three Dalton fired a high slant to LaFell covered by Bengals old friend and Vikings cornerback Terence Newman.

Dalton’s accuracy problems steamed into Sunday off his 14 of 29 performance against the Bears. On the next series he had LaFell open on a crossing route, but he threw it at his helmet and not out in front and LaFell couldn’t catch it. Then on the next snap on third-and-six from the Bengals 23 Dalton tried to gun into coverage across the middle to wide receiver Alex Erickson  but linebacker Eric Kendricks undercut it and burned Dalton for his first pick-six of the season on a 31-yard return to make it 14-0 just 9:06 into the game.

Dalton finished just 11 of 22 for 113 yards in what are probably the worst back-to-back performances of his seven seasons and he  got pulled for A.J. McCarron with ten minutes left in the game.  McCarron led the Bengals to their only score of the day in a game that finished with back-up quarterbacks. Teddy Bridgewater’s return got a huge welcome but his pass bounced crazily off a pad into the arms of Bengals safety Shawn Williams for an interception that put the ball on the Vikes 23. Bernard follow the left side for a two-yard TD run that made it 34-7 with 6:22 left.

Tough day for the Lewis Era and the Green-Dalton Era. Green finished with just two catches for 30 yards and is still 20 yards shy of 1,000 with two games left.

The Bengals lost Rey with a jaw injury early in the fourth quarter, leaving them with the three rookie backers, but even before then McKinnon kept torching them. In the second half no one still covered him and he ended up with seven catches for 114 yards for the game and two of the catches were longer than 25 yards.

The Vikings defense showed them no mercy until they ran out the first half with 1:16 left. On the series after the pick the Bengals ran Bernard four times and still didn’t have a first down after Minnesota stuffed a fourth-and-one off the right side at the Bengals 40.  

More problems? Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi left late in the first quarter with a recurring shoulder problem and that left Eric Winston playing his first snaps of the season against a guy sniffing the NFL sack lead in Everson Griffen.

The Bengals did get that elusive first down and Green that just as elusive catch when Dalton rolled out on play-action early in the second quarter, but that was it.

Like Mitchell Trubisky last week, Keenum (a seamless 13 of 15 in the half for 150 yards) had no problem flipping it to the middle of the field and getting yards. The Vikes took advantage of the inexperience and the Bengals had no one near the backs out of the backfield all day. The Bengals were forced to replace one rookie backer when Jordan Evans injured his forearm and was replaced by Brandon Bell, a rookie making his debut, before Evans returned.  

Running back Jerick McKinnon was wide open on a 41-yard on a swing pass and even when he wasn’t he caused problems. He drew a third-down pass interference call on linebacker Vincent Rey and that set up Keenum’s 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs with 6:47 left in the half that made it 24-0.

That showed you how the Bengals’ injuries gave this one more of a pre-season finale feel to the game. Diggs was working against slot corner Tony McRae on one of his first snaps since being signed from the practice squad a few weeks ago.

Newman bedeviled his own team with his first pick of the season early in the second quarter when he jumped a route to LaFell and became the fourth 39-year-old to make a pick in a game.

 

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