The Steelers pierced the 10-yard line three times. Their efforts produced a pair of Jeff Reed field goals, and a fumble by the hard-charging, but slippery-fingered Rashard Mendenhall. The MinnieVikes invaded the Steelers' 20 on four occasions. Set up with first down on the one, and then half that distance thanks to another Casey Hampton offsides, they settled for a field goal. The three other trips yielded touchdowns. One small problem for the Purple Gang, however; two of the touchdowns were scored by the team in black and gold.
As we approach Halloween, the Steelers remain unable to evade the 4th quarter goblins which haunt them week after week. While the calling card of the '08 Steelers was the 4th quarter comeback, the '09 edition is seemingly averse to shutting the door in the 4th quarter. In this frame, the offense was unable to put the final nail in the coffin. At the onset of the quarter, the Steelers couldn't extend their lead, as Mendenhall coughed up the ball, sans contact, within reaching distance of the Minnesota end zone. That was the end of #34's workday. The offense was then unable to exhaust the clock after the Vikes threatened with minutes remaining. The special teams, were unable to abide prosperity, and sacrificed a 10-point margin with less then half a quarter remaining. This time, it was Percy Harvin with the kick return, the 5th game consecutively in which the Steelers surrendered a touchdown via runback. Had Harvin been adorned in the dress blues of the Pittsburgh Police, perhaps Jeff Reed would have lowered a shoulder, and made an effort to level him.
The Steelers' defense though, despite surrendering 386 yards, most coming on a 34 for 51 passing day by Brett Fare, responded magnificently when necessary. First there was the 3rd quarter goal-line stand. Then, after Minnesota drove 89 yards in 14 plays following the Mendenhall fumble, using nearly eight minutes of clock, came up with a play that offered a pair of reminisces. The Woodley fumble return amidst a phalanx of blockers harkened back to the Harrison record-setting Super Bowl interception return. It also conjured memories of the last time Favre faced the Steelers, in Lambeau Field, and Troy Polamalu brought back a fumble by #4 nearly the length of the field for a touchdown. And finally, with most reasonable Steelers fans praying merely for overtime, with the Vikes inside the 20 and less than 2 minutes remaining, Keyaron Fox, in for the injured Lawrence Timmons, took a bouncing screen pass back 82 yards for a score.
A few more notes as the book closes on October: *Wither Willie Parker? Parker carried only once, picking up two yards. It appears that #39 may well be in his final campaign as with the team. Told by his coach during pre-season to "put it on tape," per his quest of a contract extension, the FWP tape of his '09 efforts seems to be a short one. I'm of the mind that Willie Parker is mighty upset with his workload, even though his team won. He likely sees the writing on the wall.
* Others in their contract year: Casey Hampton was offside three times today. It seems to have been a nondescript year for Casey thus far. It's been a far from nondescript year for Jeff Reed. Some are calling for his head after his less than courageous whiff of Harvin on the kick return. Missing a tackle, no matter how egregiously, will not be Skippy's ticket out of town though. He still takes care of the #1 item on his to-do list, that being converting field goal attempts at Heinz Field. Face it; had Reed made just one of his two attempts in Chicago, he'd still be the toast of the town, regardless of his indiscretions.
* It appears that Mewelde Moore is now the Steelers' closer, what with Mendenhall (the Baker of Seville) losing the ball in mid-air on a previous carry. Moore previously had an important run, albeit unheralded, gaining six yards on 3rd & 1 on the Steelers' final possession of the first half. Moore evaded tacklers to gain the down, three plays later, Mike Wallace found the end zone.
* In the Steelers' prime possession of the game, they were backed up to their nine, 1:39 to half, down four points. It would've been tough to argue with a strategy of eating the clock, and not providing the Vikes further opportunity. The Steelers threw on six of seven plays though, all but the Moore 3rd down run, and had a quick 91-yard touchdown drive, and a halftime lead.
* Ben Roethlisberger threw only seven second-half passes, completing three. The lone point-producing offensive possession of the 2nd half featured five consecutive runs, assisted by a pair of personal fouls on the Vikes. Once inside the 10, the Steelers went to the air, got nowhere, and settled for three.
* Both teams had a touchdown negated by penalty. The Steelers went on to kick a field goal; the Vikings went on to be strip-sacked for six points the other way.
* Hines Ward's line on the day: one catch, three yards.
* Limas Sweed was not awarded a hat, watching in street clothes for the second consecutive game. Did anyone notice?
Is there any longer a doubt as to the Steelers' base offense? Three or more wide receives were on the field for 38 of the Steelers 49 offensive plays, including 24 of 28 in the first half. Matt Spaeth, he of the weak bladder, was on the field for only 11 plays, much less than his usual workload.