Turning point: Offensive mistakes

The defense handled Pittsburgh's passing game for the most part, but it was the Vikings offense that allowed more points to the Steelers on Sunday.

Coming into Sunday's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the primary concern was how the Vikings defense was going to stop quarterback Roethlisberger. They lived up to that challenge, allowing just 13 points to the vaunted Pittsburgh offense. But it was 14 points scored by the Steelers defense in the fourth quarter that was the turning point of the game.

The game was a defensive struggle throughout, as the Steelers held a 13-10 lead going into the fourth quarter. The game had been turnover-free through three quarters, but that changed on the second play of the quarter when Rashard Mendenhall was stripped at the Vikings 5-yard line by Pat Williams and Madieu Williams covered the loose ball on the 3-yard line. It had the Vikings offense pinned deep, but these are the kind of moments Brett Favre lives for and it looked as though there was more magic to come from No. 4 late.

Favre moved the Vikings through the air effectively, picking up three first downs on passes to Sidney Rice of 6, 17 and 25 yards. After Adrian Peterson took a run for 19 yards and a reception for 11 more, the Vikings had a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. On the next play, Favre threw a 10-yard touchdown to Rice. However, the play was called back on a questionable tripping penalty on tight end Jeff Dugan – a call that replay seemed to show was not a foul.

Instead of having a 17-13 lead with seven minutes to play that would have likely forced the Steelers to go for a touchdown if they put together a drive of any length, the Steelers were still ahead 13-10. After a pair of dump-off passes by Favre set up a third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, the thinking was that the Vikings would take a shot for the end zone and, if that failed, settle for a short field goal from Ryan Longwell to tie the game.

Instead, the 14th play of a drive that had eaten up more than half of the fourth-quarter clock turned out to be a disaster. Dropping to pass, the ball was slapped out of Favre's hand and rolled away from him. LaMarr Woodley scooped up the loose ball and was off to the races (sort of) for a 77-yard touchdown. Instead of a Vikings lead or, at a minimum, the game being tied, Pittsburgh had a 20-10 lead with 6:23 to play.

The special teams and defense did its job to get the Vikings back in the game. Percy Harvin returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 20-17 and the defense was able to force a punt that left the Vikings on their own 26-yard line with 3:21 to play.

Favre again moved the Vikings down the field, converting first downs on passes of 8 yards Naufahu Tahi and 29 yards to Peterson on a play in which he blew up defensive back William Gay in the open field and rumbled down to the Steelers 26-yard line. Once again, it seemed as though the Vikings would have a chance to win or, falling short of that, have a chance at another short field goal to tie the game and likely send it to overtime. But, disaster would strike again.

With two timeouts and 1:20 on the clock from the 19-yard line, Favre dropped a screen for Chester Taylor intended to pick up a first down and give the Vikings a new set of downs. Taylor turned his head to run as the ball arrived and the ball bounced off his hands into the waiting arms of linebacker Keyaron Fox. As happened in the previous drive, Fox led a slow-speed chase down the sidelines for an 82-yard touchdown to give the Steelers a 27-17 lead with one minute to play.

"I hate the result, but I thought they put themselves into a position to win that football game," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "Hats off to Pittsburgh. They found a way to make a couple plays."

The big concern heading into Sunday's game was how the Vikings would hold up on the road defensively against the defending champs. They did their job, but it was a pair of touchdowns late surrendered by the offense – not the defense – that turned out to be a heartbreaking backbreaker.

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