The Cincinnati Bengals did a little bit of everything Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Vikings. Everything except celebrate.
An efficient offense and a dominant defense lifted Cincinnati to a 42-14 victory at Paul Brown Stadium, and minutes later Buffalo finished off Miami to send the Bengals into the playoffs for the third year in a row.
But there was no champagne in the locker room. Or dancing. Or high-fiving. Or really anything at all that would lead one to believe the Bengals had just done something never before accomplished in the 46-year history of the franchise.
“That’s not really what our goal was,” Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. “Our goal is to go the Super Bowl. This is going to be my fourth playoff trip in five years. We expected this.
“It’s a great feeling being a leader of this team and seeing the way this locker room is reacting,” he added. “Guys are going home, going to see their family and that’s it. There’s no rah-rah. There’s no cheering. We know what’s still in front of us.”
What’s in front of them, at the very least, is a home playoff game after New England crushed Baltimore 41-7 later in the day to earn the Bengals the AFC North Division title.
And considering they are 7-0 at home after mauling Minnesota, there is reason to be optimistic the team can get its first postseason victory in 23 seasons.
“We’re tired of that one-and-done stuff,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “We want to go farther in the playoffs. Our goals are still there. Coach Lewis said during OTAs we want to go undefeated at home, win our division and set ourselves up to be world champions.”
If they play the way they did against the Vikings, there’s no reason to think they don’t have a shot.
Quarterback Andy Dalton had arguably the best day of his three-year career, completing 27 of 38 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns for a 136.5 passer rating, the highest of his career.
“He was really grooving out there today,” said Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who caught seven passes for 97 yards, including a pair of TD strikes. “We got everybody involved today.”
Jermaine Gresham and Mohamed Sanu also caught touchdown passes, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a 4-yard TD on the team’s second offensive snap of the game.
The quick score came after Reggie Nelson sacked and stripped Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel, and Carlos Dunlap returned the ball 42 yards for the first of what would be four turnovers by the defense.
“That gave us a lot of confidence,” said linebacker Vinny Rey, whose 25-yard interception return for a touchdown pushed the lead to 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter. “We were excited to get after them.”
In addition to the four turnovers, the Cincinnati defense also had four sacks while holding the Vikings to 206 yards of total offense and 0 of 9 on third downs.
“Defensively we did a great job on third down, and that was big, starting with the first third down of the day,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said of Nelson’s sack and forced fumble. “That really set a tone throughout.”
Minnesota All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson gained only 45 yards on 11 carries, and Cassel finished just 13 of 27 for 114 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
“Bad day at the office,” Cassel said. “Our hats go off to the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s a playoff-caliber team.”
It was 28-7 by halftime and 42-7 when Dalton hit Green for a 2-yard TD with 3:19 left in the third quarter. All that was left at that point was to watch how the other games played out to see if there would be celebrating.
“No Champagne yet,” cornerback Adam Jones said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do.”