Game Day: Steelers @ Vikings

The Vikings lead the series that began in 1962, 8-6, including 4-1 at home. The Steelers won the last time they played, Dec. 2, 2001, in Heinz Field, 21-16. The record includes one postseason game, Super Bowl IX, the first won by the Steelers, 16-6. This will be only the second visit inside the Metrodome for the Steelers, who lost there 31-7 in 1986. Today is the 15th meeting between the two clubs.


GAMEDATE: 12/18/05

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Randy Cross

2005 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 20th (9th rush, 24th pass); defense 8th (4th rush, 21st pass). Vikings: offense 25th (23rd rush, 21st pass); defense 26th (17th rush, 24th pass)

PREDICTION: Steelers 23-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Don't look for anything too exotic from the Vikings' offense. Coach Mike Tice respects the speed of the Steelers defense, and he doesn't want to overburden his inconsistent offensive line. Minnesota wants to attack Pittsburgh's secondary, but in order to do so the Vikings will have to find a way to run the ball and set up their staple -- the play-action pass. The Steelers rush the passer very well, so QB Brad Johnson needs the play action to buy time to look downfield.

Pittsburgh's offense won't look to go vertical nearly as often. The Steelers are back to running the ball effectively, and RB Willie Parker could be especially dangerous on the Metrodome's field turf. The Vikings' secondary is playing increasingly well, so Pittsburgh doesn't want QB Ben Roethlisberger and his injured thumb forcing the ball downfield any more than necessary.


Steelers: RB Willie Parker needs 144 yards to become the franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher since Jerome Bettis in 2001. ... Have won six of their past seven games against the NFC North.

Vikings: Seek seventh consecutive victory. ... Johnson's .610 winning percentage ranks behind only Brett Favre (.633) and Peyton Manning (.632) among active quarterbacks with at least 100 starts.


TE Jerame Tuman left practice Thursday with a knee injury. The Steelers have only two tight ends on the roster, and if Tuman cannot go, Matt Kranchick may be signed from the practice squad for Sunday's game.

TE Heath Miller was named the Steelers' rookie of the year Thursday. His 33 receptions are the most by a Steelers tight end in 11 seasons.

RB Jerome Bettis returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a bruised thigh. Bettis may wear a protective pad on his thigh, his second such injury this season. He had his first 100-yard game of the season Sunday when he ran 17 times for 101 yards against the NFL's No. 1 defense, the Bears.

WR Hines Ward is catching fewer passes but he's scoring more often. Ward leads the Steelers with 59 receptions; his 10 TD catches are two short of his career high of 12, which is tied for second most by a Steelers receiver in one season.

CB Deshea Townsend, listed as questionable after a scary neck injury Sunday, has practiced all week and should start against the Vikings.


P Chris Kluwe (sprained right knee) punted for a second consecutive day Thursday and appears ready to return. Kluwe admits the swelling in the knee of his punting leg probably will cost him a couple of yards.

LB Heath Farwell (knee) has been downgraded from probable to questionable on the injury report. Soreness in Farwell's knee after Wednesday's practice caused the move.

DT Kevin Williams continues to practice and is expected to play Sunday after missing two games because of a sprained right knee.

CB Fred Smoot appears set to remain the Vikings' nickel back for the second consecutive week. Smoot, who missed four games because of a fractured right collarbone before returning last Sunday, has lost the starting job to Brian Williams.

RB Mewelde Moore (quadriceps) continues to practice and is listed as probable on the injury report. It remains unclear how the running back duties will be split up Sunday between Moore, Michael Bennett and Ciatrick Fason.


Steelers: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a strained tendon in his thumb and not a break, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported. The paper cited a source close to the situation as saying a sliver of bone also was chipped off in the joint when it was injured during the Steelers' Nov. 28 loss in Indianapolis.

Since then, Roethlisberger has worn a protective device on his thumb and worn a glove over it in two games. He will wear the glove again when the Steelers play inside the Metrodome on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. He has worn a glove during practice indoors this week.

"We'll be inside this week, it'll be warm, so my hand will probably sweat a little bit, but we'll make it work," Roethlisberger said.

After the injury, Roethlisberger was given two options: place his thumb in a cast, ending his season, or play with the device. Roethlisberger complained last week that his thumb hurt and was "pretty bad." However, the source said Roethlisberger indicated his injury improved this season. There is hope now that surgery will not be required after the season.

Coach Bill Cowher has declined to specify what the injury is, and Roethlisberger said he's been told not to offer details about it. Roethlisberger is listed as probable for the third straight week but has not missed a practice.

Roethlisberger missed four games this season because of separate injuries to both knees. He had surgery on his right knee Nov. 3 to remove part of a torn meniscus.

Another injured member of the Steelers backfield, Duce Staley, said he's hoping for a full recovery from August knee surgery and "getting back to the old Duce" next season. Staley, who signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2004, had 707 yards rushing after the first seven games last season before a hamstring injury ruined the rest of his season. He had surgery to remove a meniscus Aug. 3 and has played in just five games this year. He has 148 yards rushing this season.

"With my surgery, it usually takes about a year to come back because I had more done than Ben, I had more done than other guys," Staley said.

After starter Willie Parker sprained an ankle in Green Bay on Nov. 6, Staley replaced him and rushed for 76 yards against the Packers. He started for the injured Parker on Nov. 13 against Cleveland and rushed for 64 yards. Since then, he's had six carries in two games as the third-down back. He was inactive again last week.

"Do I want to play? Of course," Staley said. "Do I want the ball? Of course. But now this situation does not allow that."

Vikings: The Vikings' preparations for Sunday's game against Pittsburgh were interrupted Thursday as charges were handed down against four players involved in the now infamous boat party on Lake Minnetonka in October. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper, running back Moe Williams, cornerback Fred Smoot and left tackle Bryant McKinnie were charged with misdemeanors alleging lewd or indecent conduct.

Culpepper and Williams are both out for the season because of knee injuries.

The players were charged with one count of indecent conduct, one count of disorderly conduct and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct. All are misdemeanor charges.

"We've been down this road with other players before and I'll just let you know, as it pertains to any type of punishment or this or that, according to NFL rules and union contracts there is a big difference between allegations, charges and convictions," coach Mike Tice said. "So until at any point there is a conviction of any type, if there is, I have no actions to take and nothing to say."

The maximum penalty on each charge is 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. The players are set to make court appearances on Jan. 5.

Hennepin County Sheriff Patrick McGowan said the investigation from the Oct. 6 party identified 30 Vikings as being on the two boats. There were about 90 people present.

According to the complaints, various sexual acts took place between the players who have been charged and unidentified women on the boats owned by Al and Alma's Supper Club and Charter Cruises. That company's attorney said these acts were done in front of Al and Alma's employees and that some feared for their safety.

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