The Vikings' 12-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday was a tale of two games for the Vikings - a defensive effort that shut down the Steelers starters and didn't allow a touchdown, and an offense that looked out of sync much of the night.
In a game where both teams were playing their starters for a full half, it was expected that the pressure would be on both defenses in Saturday's 12-10 win by the Steelers over the Vikings at the Metrodome. As it turned out, the defenses did their share of domination. The Vikings didn't allow a touchdown and the Steelers allowed just three points to the Vikings in the second half.
For some of the Vikings, it was a call-out that didn't need to be said audibly. The players took it upon themselves to elevate their game with a national TV audience watching.
"We all came out and kind of non-verbally communicated with each other," linebacker Ben Leber
said. "We knew this was a big game for the starters. We wanted to erase any questions that there may have been from the first two games. I think we did that. We played strong and didn't give up any big plays in the running game."
While the Vikings defense was pleased with its effort against the reigning AFC North champions, the offense was another story. The Vikings struggled from the outset and had just one sustained drive that led to its only score of the second half with the first-team offense. Tarvaris Jackson
was sidelined and Gus Frerotte
and the offense committed three false-start penalties in the first series. Even after getting somewhat on track, without Jackson and Bernard Berrian
to stretch the field, the Vikings offense struggled.
"I think we shot ourselves a little bit in the foot early with penalties," Frerotte said. "They're a good team and we came out and said we had to change our game plan – some quick counts to dictate to them and set our tempo. Once we did that, we were able to move the ball up and down a little bit."
Although the Vikings came out on the short end of the score, the feeling among the players was that they were just one step away from getting the regular season underway – pointing to what they hope will be a statement game against the Packers in Week 1.
"We're gearing toward Sept. 8," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said of the regular-season opener against the Packers. "That's why we brought Jared (Allen) in. We just wanted a good showing from these next couple of games and I think we did that tonight."
Jeff Reed showed why he is one of the more dependable kickers in the league. Having to master the tricky winds of the open end of Heinz Field, he was perfect at the Metrodome – scoring all the Steelers points by making all four of his field goal attempts.
The Vikings managed just 32 yards rushing on 22 carries and none of the five players who had at least one carry averaged more than two yards rushing. Adrian Peterson had a team-high 12 carries, 21 yards and, believe it or not, his 1.8-yard average also led the team.
Steelers rookie Rashard Mendenhall led all rushers with 79 yards on 15 carries, while Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich combined to complete 26 of 40 passes for 194 yards.
The Vikings QBs combined to complete 17 of 24 passes for 152 yards, with John David Booty coming off the bench to complete four of five passes he threw for 19 yards.
Aundrae Allison led all receivers with five catches for 56 yards. Willie Reid led the Steelers with five receptions for 55 yards. The Steelers had five players with three or more receptions and 11 different players caught passes. The Vikings had two players with three or more catches (A.D. being the other) and eight different players had at least one catch.
After holding the ball for the first 4:54 of the third quarter, the Steelers held the ball for 19 minutes and 23 seconds of the game's final 25 minutes.
Through three games, the Vikings have averaged just 2.6 yards a carry, rushing 83 times for 217 yards. Opponents have one less carry (82), but 173 more yards (390) for a 4.8-yard average. Adrian Peterson has just 51 yards on 20 carries in the two games he has carried the ball.
Through three games, 19 different Vikings have caught passes, led by Aundrae Allison with eight.
The Vikings have outscored opponents 30-3 in the second quarter this preseason but have been outscored 58-20 in the other three quarters, including 34-6 in the second half.
Neither the Vikings nor their opponents have missed a field goal in the preseason. The Vikings are 5-for-5 and their opponents are 6-for-6.
STARTER GAME NOTES
After holding the Steelers to just 26 yards rushing on 14 carries in the first half, on the first rush of the second half Mendenhall gained 21 yards.
Both the Steelers first-team offense and the Vikings first-team defense didn't take the field in the second half.
After picking up just six first downs in the first half, the Vikings first-team offense picked up five first downs in the only drive in the second half in which the starters played.
In the Vikings scoring drive to start the third quarter, Peterson had four straight carries in which he gained three yards.
The defenses dominated the first half, as the team combined to gain just 181 yards. The Vikings had 105 yards (88 passing, 17 rushing), while the Steelers had just 76 (50 passing and 26 rushing).
Individually, Parker had 10 carries for only 18 yards to lead the Steelers, while the Vikings fared little better. Peterson had seven carries for 11 yards and Taylor had four carries for just 5 yards.
Neither QB lit up the stat sheet in the first half. Roethlisberger completed 10 of 17 passes for 65 yards. Frerotte completed 10 of 14 passes for 103 yards with one interception. Heath Miller was the leading receiver with three catches for 30 yards, while Allison led the Vikings with four catches for 49 yards.
The Vikings linebackers were extremely active in the first half. Chad Greenway led the team with six tackles (five solo) and E.J. Henderson had five tackles (all solo).
Late in the second quarter, three Vikings defenders – Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Ray Edwards all converged on Roethlisberger. He escaped and all three ended up on their backs after colliding with each other.
"(Roethlisberger) got out of there," Kevin Williams said with a laugh. "I was trying to hit him and we all hit head on. He snuck out of there, but I was just glad he didn't get a first down."
Williams made his presence felt in the second quarter. He stripped rookie Rashard Mendenhall to give the Vikings their first scoring opportunity early in the second quarter. Minutes later, he came within a step of sharing a sack with Edwards and, on the next play, sacked Roethlisberger and slammed him to the turf. Williams finished the first half with four tackles.
All 10 of the points scored in the first half were the direct result of turnovers that let the opposing offense start a drive beyond the 50-yard line. A fumble led to the Vikings' only points of the half and a Frerotte interception led to Pittsburgh's only three points.
The last play of the first quarter saw the Vikings gain 25 yards on a pass from Frerotte to Shiancoe. It represented almost half of the total yards for the first quarter. The Vikings had 54 total yards (49 passing, 5 rushing), while the Steelers managed just 45 yards (37 rushing, 8 passing).
Individually, Frerotte was 5 of 7 passing for 52 yards in the first period. Peterson had two carries for 5 yards and Allison was the leading receiver with two catches for 14 yards. Roethlisberger was also 5 of 7 passing for 37 yards. Miller was the only Steeler with more than one reception, catching two passes for 17 yards.
After allowing the starting running backs of the first two preseason opponents to gain more than 60 yards on their first six carries against the first-team defense, Parker had no such luck, gaining 4 yards on his first six rushing attempts.
On the second-to-last play of the first quarter, Steelers starting linebacker Larry Foote was rolled up by a teammate and suffered an ankle injury that took him out of the game. On the next play, the Vikings went over his spot for a 25-yard completion to Shiancoe.
On the Steelers' second drive of the game, the team pulled out a little trickery against the Vikings. On the opening play of the drive, Roethlisberger lined up as a wide receiver and Parker took a direct snap with a man cutting in front of him. The play gained 5 yards. Two plays later, faced with a fourth-and-inches, the Steelers called a quarterback sneak that was stuffed to end the drive on downs.
On that same play, the Vikings had a win-win situation. The Steelers went hurry-up to try to convert the first down but made an illegal substitution. The officials brought out the chains to check on the first down. Had the Steelers converted, the Vikings would have accepted the penalty and made them punt. As it turned out, the Steelers didn't convert and the Vikings took over on downs.
Mewelde Moore got a chance to return punts for Pittsburgh in the first half. He finished with 16 yards on two returns.
The first two drives for the Vikings offense were about as dismal as they could be. On the first drive, three false-start calls backed the Vikings up 13 yards and they finished the drive with a net of minus-10 yards. On the second drive, the Vikings gained just 6 yards and had to punt.
Speaking to the three false-start penalties on the opening drive, Frerotte said, "You can't put it on one person. It's snap count. I may have called one late. Through preseason, you work on those kind of things and try to get the kinks out."
Chad Greenway had to be holding his breath as he made a special teams tackle early in the first quarter. On the special-teams coverage of his rookie in season in 2006 against the Steelers, Greenway tore his anterior cruciate ligament and missed the entire year.
Ryan Longwell did the kicking to start the game, the first time all preseason that he has been used in that capacity. His first kickoff went to the 1-yard line.
BACKUP GAME NOTES
The Vikings opened the second half with an 11-play drive that ate five minutes off the game clock. Not to be outdone, the Steelers came back with a 13-play drive that ate more than seven minutes off the clock. In both instances, the teams came away from their long drives with field goals.
The Steelers would follow up their 13-play drive in the third quarter with another 13-play drive that included one third-down conversion on a penalty when rookie Letroy Guion was called for a personal foul when he smacked Leftwich in the helmet on a pass that came up short of the first-down yardage.
Saturday could have marked the return of Daunte Culpepper to the Metrodome with another team – he came here with the Raiders last year. When Culpepper balked at the Steelers' offer of a contract after losing Charlies Batch, the team signed Leftwich, who opened the second half with a long scoring drive in which he completed four of six passes for 28 yards.
In a span from 10:06 remaining in the third quarter to 10:02 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Vikings had the ball for just 1 minute, 58 seconds, while the Steelers maintained possession for 13 minutes, 2 seconds.
Mendenhall had both the ups and downs of being a rookie in the NFL. On the plus side, he electrified a dormant running game in the second half with runs of 21, 18 and 16 yards. On the down side, he had two critical fumbles – one that led to a Vikings touchdown and another in the red zone.
Otis Grigsby made one of the plays of the second half by blowing up a running play and bringing down running back Gary Russell for an 8-yard loss that would force the Steelers to attempt a field goal.
John David Booty got the second-string call at quarterback ahead of Brooks Bollinger, perhaps another sign that Bollinger may be on the way out as the Vikings' third-string QB.
After the first drive of the second half, the Vikings had just one first down the rest of the game.
The Vikings won the opening coin toss, but deferred to the second half, opting to kick off to the Steelers.
Bernard Berrian wasn't listed among the pregame inactives, but didn't suit up for the game.
The Vikings injury inactives were Tarvaris Jackson, Sidney Rice, Brian Robison and Garrett Mills.
There is always talk about how well Steelers fans travel and it was in evidenced on Saturday. The noisy Steelers fans were just about as loud as the Vikings fans in attendance and, unlike many Vikings fans who left at halftime or in the third quarter, the Steelers faithful hung around until the final play of the game.
The announced attendance was 62,625 – the 106th straight sellout at the Metrodome since the preseason of 1998.