A few hours after a report surfaced that Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis will walk away from the team after the season — a report he denied after the game — his players looked as though they were trying to beat him out the door.
The Minnesota Vikings raced out a 17-point lead less than 13 minutes into the game on the way to a dominating 34-7 victory Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We didn’t execute well enough early in the football game to give us an opportunity to make first downs and plays,” Lewis said. “We’ve got to get more done on offense. We’ve struggled the last two weeks to get stuff done early in the football game.”
Minnesota improved to 11-3 and clinched the NFC North Division title, while the Bengals dropped their third game in a row to fall to 5-9, ensuring back-to-back losing seasons for just the second time in Lewis’ 15-year run as coach.
The Vikings built a 34-0 lead before turning the offense over to backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for his first action since tearing his ACL in practice last August.
Bridgewater’s first pass was went off the hands of running back Jerick McKinnon and into the arms of Bengals safety Shawn Williams with 9:18 left in the game.
The Bengals followed the Vikings’ lead and put in backup quarterback AJ McCarron, who led a six-play, 23-yard drive that ended with Giovani Bernard scoring on a 2-yard run with 6:22 remaining to avoid the shutout.
Cincinnati starter Andy Dalton was 11 of 22 for 133 yards with two interceptions and a 27.3 passer rating before giving way to McCarron, who finished 3 of 6 for 19 yards and a 56.9 rating.
The Bengals had just three first downs and 121 yards of offense with Dalton at the helm.
Vikings starter Case Keenum was 20 of 23 for 236 yards and two touchdowns for a 138.4 rating.
Minnesota opened the game with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with running back Latavius Murray scoring a 1-yard touchdown, and the Bengals were never in the game after that.
Less than five minutes later, Minnesota linebacker Eric Kendricks returned a Dalton interception 31 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
“You don’t want to play from behind against a group that’s predicated on being able to rush and doing what they do,” Lewis said. “That’s the unfortunate part. You want to play even or in the lead, and we got behind the 8-ball.”
On the next Bengals possession, Lewis elected to go for it on fourth and 1 from his own 39, and Bernard was stuffed for no gain. That led to Kai Forbath’s 53-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead with 2:10 left in the opening quarter.
The Bengals didn’t get their first first down until a few minutes into the second quarter, but they punted three plays later and Minnesota drove 77 yards in eight plays to up the lead to 24-0 on a Keenum pass to Stefon Diggs with 6:44 left in the second quarter.
Keenum added a 1-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to Cincinnati native Kyle Rudolph, who celebrated by doing the Ickey Shuffle.
Since taking a 17-0 lead against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, the Bengals have been outscored 80-17.
They will try to snap their losing streak on Christmas Eve when they play their home finale against Detroit.
Lions at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7