MINNEAPOLIS -- Brad Childress uses video clips, a dry wit and his psychology degree to address the Minnesota Vikings in team meetings the night before games, and for this week's message the coach used an auto racing analogy.
That lopsided loss at Arizona? Just a pit stop, Childress insisted.
"We wanted to come out and show to ourselves that this is the Vikings team you have seen all year," said Peterson, who added 40 yards receiving and set a single-season franchise record with 14 rushing touchdowns.
Minnesota (11-2) clinched a spot in the playoffs and moved within one win -- or one Green Bay loss -- 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 linebacker E.J. Henderson's devastating injury last week with an inspired effort while welcoming hard-hitting cornerback Antoine Winfield back.
"They sent a message and set a tone early in the game," said Cedric Benson, whose 16 carries for 96 yards gave him his first 1,000-yard season. "Today was a big learning lesson. We've got a lot of young guys, and I don't think that many guys have had that playoff run opportunity. Today was a playoff game if you ask me. Tough opponent."
Cincinnati (9-4) committed 11 penalties for 85 yards and failed to clinch the AFC North when Baltimore won. Rookies Jasper Brinkley and Jamarca Sanford made their first career starts at linebacker and safety, respectively, and the Vikings held Carson Palmer to a season-low 94 yards passing.
He threw a second-quarter touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco, but it didn't bring a hint of celebration from the flamboyant, oft-fined Pro Bowl player -- or do much to get the Bengals in the game.
Ochocinco finished with three catches for 27 yards, and Winfield -- who missed the past six games with a foot injury -- was all over the field. Ryan Longwell kicked three first-half field goals, the last with four seconds left after Winfield tackled Brian Leonard in the flat and forced a critical fumble.
The Vikings got the ball to start the second half, too, and the game-defining drive was all Peterson. He dived over the pile on third-and-1 for the touchdown midway through the third quarter.
"We weren't thinking that was a turning point in the game at the time, but looking back that was a tough couple minutes," Palmer said.
After a humbling defeat last week, dominated in all facets by the Cardinals, 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 kept standout rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin out, robbing Favre of his trusty third-down target. But against the league's top defense in that category, the Vikings converted eight of 14 opportunities. They also hung a season-high total on the NFL's stingiest scoring defense.
"I don't think I'm falling apart in December like most people seem to think," Favre said. "So I feel fine. I don't feel much different than most guys in that locker room at this stage of the season."
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.
A banged-up Vikings offensive line handled a physical, trash-talking Bengals front.
"It just kind of motivated everybody, starting with the offensive line," left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "I don't know if they were trying for an intimidation factor or not, but we got it going."
- The Bengals hadn't played at the Metrodome, now officially called Mall of America Field, since 1998. This was their first loss to an NFC North opponent under coach Marvin Lewis after seven straight wins.
- With Benson falling just short, Minnesota's streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher reached 36 straight games, the longest current run in the league.