The game was ugly from the start, which was somewhat unexpected considering the Bengals were a week removed from laying a massive egg on Sunday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cincinnati has one game to go, and it's a highlight in the form of a matchup with Baltimore. In order to upend an AFC North opponent in the Ravens, a team that already defeated them once, the Bengals can examine a few key takeaways from their win over the Vikings.
The Cincinnati Bengals have an issue in tight end Jermaine Gresham.
He is one of the NFL's most penalized players, but he is also talented enough to consistently contribute.
Gresham caught three passes for 49 yards and a score, but also fumbled away a reception early that led to a score for Minnesota. He was also flagged for several penalties.
These series of tweets from Bleacher Report's Andrea Hangst and Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer sum up his day nicely:
Jermaine Gresham fumbles the ball away. Unsurprisingly.— Andrea Hangst (@FBALL_Andrea) December 22, 2013
Seems to be the pattern of Jermaine Gresham. The highs and lows, from game to game and series to series are remarkable.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) December 22, 2013
Holding on Jermaine Gresham. He's so penalized.— Andrea Hangst (@FBALL_Andrea) December 22, 2013
Gresham obviously cannot be benched, but he is someone to keep an eye on moving forward.
It is hard to put too much stock into an impressive aerial assault against the lowly secondary the Minnesota Vikings field, but Cincinnati's offense under coordinator Jay Gruden clearly has the tools to compete with any defense.
Yes, A.J. Green was spectacular with seven catches for 97 yards and two scores. But keep in mind the game plan all along was a pass-heavy approach. Marvin Jones caught six for 85 yards, Jermaine Gresham caught three for 49 yards and a score. Giovani Bernard caught two. Andrew Hawkins caught three. Mohamed Sanu caught four with a score.
Also, keep in mind this was mostly without rookie tight end Tyler Eifert, who left with an injury.
In other words, this offense is firing on all cylinders as many expected before the season. The ball is getting spread around rather evenly and defenses cannot throw the proper amount of resources at each weapon.
Best of all? It's happening at the perfect time. Let the Jay Gruden head coach talk resume.
Perhaps it was the mediocre competition Minnesota brought to the Queen City in Week 16, but the injury woes on the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line once again failed to have an impact on the game.
Cincinnati slowly worked right guard Kevin Zeitler back into things Sunday, which could not have come at a better time. The Bengals lost starting right tackle Andre Smith to a sprained ankle in the second half, as ESPN's Coley Harvey illustrates:
Andre Smith has a sprained ankle and is out for the remainder of the game. #Bengals— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) December 22, 2013
The result was backup Anthony Collins going from left to right tackle, Andrew Whitworth going from left guard to tackle and backup Mike Pollak coming in at left guard.
Alas, Andy Dalton was sacked two times but the line had a major day against a big name like Jared Allen. Not bad considering the wealth of names absent from the starting lineup in the trenches.
Fans know that the Cincinnati Bengals are an elite team when Andy Dalton plays at a high level.
While it is hard to heap too much praise on the TCU product for dissecting a shaky and injured Minnesota secondary, Dalton's 27-of-38 performance for 366 yards and four scores was yet another strong showing on what has been a strong run.
Dalton has had titanic ups-and-downs this year, but appears comfortable once again despite shuffling along the offensive line.
It helps that the play-calling has been better, as names like Marvin Jones and Andrew Hawkins continue to be more involved.
If Dalton can continue this trend, the Bengals may make some noise in the postseason.
Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey does not get a lot of national attention, but he will in the coming week after his strong performance against Minnesota.
Rey recorded a forced fumble early in the game. Later, he picked off a horrible pass from Matt Cassel and returned it for a touchdown.
Bengals faithful are accustomed to seeing big games from Rey at this point. He put together a few strong performances earlier in the year while playing for Rey Maualuga.
This late in the season it is hard to start a conversation about his ability to steal a starting job, but Rey continues to make a serious push for more playing time.
Regardless, the team has some serious depth at linebacker—not bad considering four of the six were undrafted players.
Week 16 was yet another miserable outing for Cincinnati Bengals second-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick.
After a woeful performance against Pittsburgh the week prior, Kirkpatrick got the start once again for the injured Terence Newman against the Minnesota Vikings.
The results were ugly.
Kirkpatrick bit hard on a double move early in the game, which resulted in a Minnesota touchdown. He was later involved in an interception, but he committed clear pass interference after getting beat down the field.
Bleacher Report's Andrea Hangst put it best:
Dre Kirkpatrick is basically a rookie all over again. And it shows.— Andrea Hangst (@FBALL_Andrea) December 22, 2013
This is a serious problem against competent teams, so Newman better be healthy by the time the playoffs roll around. Kirkpatrick is simply not ready to be a serious part of the defense.
Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings moves the Cincinnati Bengals to 7-0 at home this year.
Paul Brown Stadium has been too kind to the team. The 42-14 victory over the Vikings marks the fourth-straight time the Bengals have scored more than 40 points in front of their fans.
Perhaps best of all, the game that will ultimately decide the season in Week 17 against Baltimore is a home contest.
Speaking of which, if Cincinnati wins, it has a serious shot at the No. 2 seed in the AFC—and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
A matchup with the Minnesota Vikings could not have come at a better time for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Vikings are 4-10-1 for a reason. They were out-gained 429-209 and posted an impressive 0-of-9 mark on third down. Perhaps worst of all, they failed to eclipse 100 passing yards.
This is exactly what the doctor ordered for Cincinnati. Andy Dalton looked crisp, Jay Gruden appeared to have a great plan and the defense took advantage of a miserable opponent to stay sharp.
But now things get tough.
Baltimore makes the trip to Paul Brown Stadium in Week 17 for a game that will be a typical AFC North battle. The Ravens already beat the Bengals in Week 10 via a 20-17 overtime final.
Like fans saw last week, the Bengals have a tendency to crumble in important games. Hopefully the young team got it out of their system in Week 15 with the loss to Pittsburgh, using Minnesota as a stepping stone to one of their biggest games of the season.