Third-quarter barrage extended lead enough

The Vikings finally got a fourth-quarter turnover to end an opponents' last stand, but it was a combination of offense and defense in the third quarter that helped build up the Vikings' lead to 17 points that made the difference.

In a Vikings game that once again came down to a win hanging perilously in the balance in the game's final minute, it was an electrifying six-minute span that gave the Vikings control of the momentum before Pittsburgh's final drive.

The late rush by the Steelers had Vikings fans feeling a sense of déjà vu (or "here we go again"), but the deficit was seven points, not the six- and three-point leads that got squandered in the final minute of the game. The Vikings never trailed in the game, but it was how they got their 17-point lead they tried to protect in the fourth quarter that became the turning point.

The Vikings led 20-10 at halftime, but the Steelers came out with a vengeance in the third quarter, marching 80 yards in 3½ minutes to score a touchdown and cut the Vikings lead to 20-17. The Vikings needed an answer and they got one.

Starting from his own 25-yard line, Matt Cassel came out throwing. He started with a bubble screen to Cordarrelle Patterson, who showed exceptional toughness in gaining nine yards. After being backed up by a holding penalty, Cassel uncorked a pass down the deep middle of the field to Jerome Simpson for a 51-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 25-yard line.

With the ball in scoring position, it was all Adrian Peterson from there. Peterson carried the ball four times for the remaining 25 yards, converting a third-and-1 with a 9-yard carry and, on the next play, went in from seven yards out for a touchdown to put the lead back to the 10 points at 27-17. The offense did its part to stop the bleeding, but it would be the defense's next series that changed the game in a big way.

Looking for an answer, Ben Roethlisberger avoided a sack to convert a first down on a third-and-4 play and was looking for more. However, he misfired on his next pass and threw it into the waiting arms of Chad Greenway, who intercepted the ball on the Pittsburgh 40-yard line and gave the ball back to the Vikings offense, which wouldn't wait long to take advantage of the turnover.

On the first play after the interception, Cassel completed a short pass to Kyle Rudolph, who was thrown down out of bounds by linebacker LaMarr Woodley, which added another 15 yards at the end of the play. On the next play, Cassel fired a 16-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings, his second of the day, to give the Vikings a 34-17 lead.

While the Steelers dominated the fourth quarter while in desperation mode and against a Vikings defense willing to give the short underneath passes to keep the clock rolling, the players, coaches and fans once again found themselves holding their collective breath in the final minute of the game. It was a six-minute span of the third quarter that turned a three-point lead into a 17-point advantage – which, this time, held up.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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