CINCINNATI (AP) — Three seasons in the NFL, three times in the playoffs. Andy Dalton has done something special during his just-getting-started career.
Now he gets another chance to win one when it matters most.
Dalton threw four touchdown passes on Sunday, and linebacker Vincent Rey returned an interception 25 yards for a score and the Bengals had another big day at home, beating the Minnesota Vikings 42-14 on Sunday.
A few minutes after their game ended, the Bengals (10-5) clinched a playoff berth when Miami lost at Buffalo 19-0. That made it 3 for 3 for Dalton, who will be in the spotlight more than anyone else at playoff time.
It's the first time in their history that the Bengals have reached the playoffs in three straight seasons.
"To be in the playoffs every year since I've been here is huge," said Dalton, only the fifth quarterback in NFL history to make the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. "It gives you a chance to accomplish the ultimate goal."
Something about Paul Brown Stadium brings out the best in Dalton and the Bengals, who are 7-0 at home. They've topped 40 points in each of their past four home games, a franchise first. Dalton has thrown for five, three, three and four TDs in those games.
"He was really grooving out there today," said A.J. Green, who caught two of the touchdowns. "We got everybody involved today."
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. Two of Cincinnati's touchdowns came off their defense.
"Turnovers definitely decided the game," said Peterson, who sat out the second half with the Vikings far behind. "We put them in a position to play the game the way they wanted to play.
"It's tough getting behind the 8-ball like we did."
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' surge. His biggest shortcoming: 0-2 with two poor showings in the playoffs.