The real A.P. shows up and leads Vikings to win
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Adrian Peterson ran as if he was angry about his recent struggles, and the Minnesota Vikings rode his resurgence to an important victory.
Peterson had 97 yards and two touchdowns on 26 rushes without a turnover, pushing the Vikings past the mistake-prone Cincinnati Bengals 30-10 on Sunday.
Peterson added 40 yards receiving and set a single-season team record with 14 rushing touchdowns, moving Minnesota (11-2) within one more win of a second straight NFC North title.
Brett Favre wasn't great, completing 17 of 30 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown and an interception, but the defense responded to middle linebacker E.J. Henderson's devastating injury with an inspired effort while welcoming cornerback Antoine Winfield back.
Carson Palmer was 15 for 25 for a season-low 94 yards and one touchdown, and Cedric Benson's 16 carries for 96 yards gave him his first 1,000-yard season but left Cincinnati short of 100 for the first time in a month.
The Bengals (9-4) committed 11 penalties for 85 yards, failing in their first chance to clinch the AFC North. They face another tough road game next week with San Diego. The league's stingiest defense in scoring and third downs gave up a season-high 30 points and let the Vikings convert eight of 14 third downs.
After a humbling defeat in the desert last week, dominated in all facets by a determined Arizona team, Minnesota faced a crossroad here against Cincinnati, which beat the three other NFC North teams this season behind a combined 440 yards rushing from the Chicago castoff Benson.
Migraines that bothered wide receiver and kickoff returner Percy Harvin all week forced the rookie to miss a game for the first time, robbing Favre of his trusty third-down target and the Vikings of perhaps their best all-around athlete.
The offense was sluggish in the first half, and Favre put a couple of balls in dangerous places. One of them was picked off by Leon Hall, when strong pressure on a designed third-down rollout to the right rushed Favre's throw.
As great as he has been for the Vikings this fall, Favre must still quiet skepticism about how he'll finish. Last season, he got hurt and the New York Jets stumbled. His poor play on a wintry Green Bay night helped keep the Packers from the Super Bowl two years ago, and his 34-to-13 interception-to-touchdown ratio in the final four regular season games over the past four years is glaring.
The Vikings always prefer a run-first approach, though, and Peterson was revived at the right time.
Chester Taylor chipped in, too, with 57 total yards. The Bengals, missing stout defensive tackle Domata Peko for the second week in a row, saw their team-record streak of eight straight games holding the other team under 100 yards rushing end. Safety Chris Crocker hurt his ankle in the first quarter and didn't return, and cornerback Johnathan Joseph was hurt in the third.
Palmer's touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco late in the second quarter brought not even a hint of celebration from the flamboyant, oft-fined Pro Bowl player, but it did pull the Bengals within 10-7. Ryan Longwell kicked a short field goal to stretch the lead with 35 seconds left in the half, and then a fumble by Brian Leonard forced by the hard-hitting Winfield gave Longwell and the Vikings a gift three-pointer.
They got the ball to start the second half, too, and the game-defining drive was all Peterson, who avoided the negative yardage that's been hurting him lately. He dived over the pile on third-and-1 for the touchdown midway through the third quarter, making it 23-7 Minnesota.
The defense was just as important, coming through with some key third-down stops in the second half without their captain Henderson in the middle. Ochocinco had just three catches for 27 yards, and Winfield -- who missed the past six games with a foot injury -- was all over the field.