Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (42) attempts to avoid a tackle by Minnesota Minnesota Vikings middle linebacker Erin Henderson (50) the second quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Marc Lebryk/Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
CINCINNATI (AP) — Another big game at home got the Bengals back into the playoffs.
Linebacker Vincent Rey returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown and Cincinnati’s defense set up another fast start on Sunday, and Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes and the Bengals pulled away to a 42-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Bengals (10-5) remained perfect at home and clinched an unprecedented third straight playoff appearance when Miami lost at Buffalo 19-0. They could clinch the AFC North title if Baltimore lost at home to New England later Sunday.
Something about Paul Brown Stadium brings out the best in Dalton. In his past four home games, Dalton has thrown for five, three, three and four touchdowns. The Bengals have topped 40 points in each of their past four home games, a club record.
The Vikings (4-10-1) had knocked off playoff contenders Chicago and Philadelphia in the past three weeks. Even with Adrian Peterson back from a foot injury, they couldn’t keep up.
The Vikings had allowed the second-most points in the league heading into the game. They gave up 40 for the third time this season.
Dalton has thrown 31 touchdown passes this season, one shy of Carson Palmer’s club record from 2005. Dalton replaced Palmer in the 2011 season and has led the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.
His biggest shortcoming: 0-2 with two poor showings in the playoffs. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, tied for the seventh-longest stretch of futility in NFL history.
He had good conditions for throwing the ball — breezy with temperatures in the 50s. And the defense helped out, too.
Dalton threw touchdown passes of 29 yards to A.J. Green and 16 yards to Jermaine Gresham as the Bengals pulled ahead 28-7 before halftime, the most points that Minnesota had allowed in an opening half.
Two of Cincinnati’s first three touchdowns came courtesy of the defense. Rey’s interception and touchdown return made it 21-7.
Giovani Bernard pulled off the game’s flashiest play, turning a short pass into a 41-yard play in the third quarter by doing a complete spin to avoid a tackler, stiff-arming another and reaching the 7-yard line. Dalton passed to Mohamed Sanu for his third touchdown.
Green made a one-hand grab of a 2-yard pass for another TD and a 41-14 lead.
Peterson returned after missing a game with a sprained right foot. He got the ball on Minnesota’s first two plays and gained only 4 yards. On third down, Cassel was sacked on a blitz and fumbled. End Carlos Dunlap picked up the ball and returned it to the 4-yard line.
Two plays and 12 seconds later, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran it in for a 7-0 lead.
Peterson was held to 45 yards on 11 carries. Cassel was 13 of 27 for 114 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. The Vikings took advantage of Dre Kirkpatrick for their first touchdown — the cornerback played off Jarius Wright, went for a fake and stumbled, allowing the receiver to run past him for a 36-yard score.