The Vikings entered their seventh game of the season with the second-best turnover ratio in the NFL at plus-8. They left Heinz Field stinging from two fourth-quarter touchdowns from the Steelers – both the result of Vikings turnovers.
A 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown and an 82-yard interception return for touchdown by the Steelers defense in the final seven minutes of the game kept the Vikings at bay and allowed Pittsburgh (5-2) to move to 4-0 at home with a 27-17 win over the previously unbeaten Vikings (6-1).
After losing a 10-3 lead late in the first half, the Vikings were forced to play from behind and, as Adrian Peterson joked about Thursday, it's tough to play catch-up at Heinz Field. Neither team was joking around in the fourth quarter, however.
The Vikings entered the final period trailing 13-10 and put together a drive that was marred by penalties yet still threatened to score. After 13 plays and four Minnesota penalties on the drive, the Vikings were at the 8-yard line. That was before Brett Keisel stripped Brett Favre of the ball and LaMarr Woodley returned it 77 yards for a touchdown and a 20-10 Steelers lead.
But it wasn't over yet. Percy Harvin returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown and the Vikings defense forced a punt.
With 3:21 to play, Favre had another chance down by three points. The offense put together a cleaner drive this time, sparked by a 29-yard pass play to Peterson, but once inside the red zone, it came apart again. As Favre dropped to pass from the 19-yard line, he tried a screen to Chester Taylor that went off the running back's hands and into the arms of linebacker Keyaron Fox, who returned the interception 82 yards for the decisive touchdown.
Facing their biggest test of the season, the Vikings were their own enemy in uncharacteristic ways. They lost in turnovers, lost in penalties and twice lost the ball in the red zone. That added up to a 27-17 road loss.
Favre ended with 334 yards passing, no touchdowns and one interception, with Sidney Rice coming up with one big play after another on his way to a 136-yard day, his second consecutive 100-yard game (the only two times he's done that in his career). Peterson finished with 69 yards rushing, the same amount the Vikings defense allowed Rashard Mendenhall on the ground, and the pass defense was better yet – holding Ben Roethlisberger to 175 yards and a touchdown.
But this loss came down to the fourth quarter and an uncommon storyline of the Vikings losing the turnover battle, which is nearly as rare as them losing games this year.
The Steelers used field position throughout the first quarter to eventually take a 3-0 lead at the end of the period. The first five possessions of the game finished with punts, but Chris Kluwe had two poor ones that gave the Steelers position near midfield, and a 19-yarder set up Pittsburgh's third position starting at the Minnesota 39-yard line. Roethlisberger converted one first down with a 10-yard pass to Mike Wallace, but the Vikings avoided a seven-point deficit when Heath Miller was flagged for pass interference that nullified a touchdown by Santonio Holmes. The Steelers had to settle for a 39-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with four seconds left in the first quarter.
After another exchange of punts, the Vikings put together easily their best drive of the game to that point, and they did it mostly with passing. On third-and-6, Favre hit Harvin for 28 yards and they were across midfield for the first time in the game. Two plays later, Favre found Bernard Berrian for 7 yards and another first down and then went to Berrian again for 11 yards. A 9-yard pass to Visanthe Shiancoe put the ball inside the red zone, and from there it was all Peterson. He carried the ball three of the next four plays and capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-3 lead with 5:12 to play in the half.
After another exchange of punts, the Steelers would have one last drive in the half and made the most of it. Roethlisberger did it through the air, driving the Steelers 91 yards in less than two minutes for a touchdown. He did it with intermediate gains until he got to the 38-yard line. From there, it took only two big completions to Wallace – 22 yards and a 40-yard touchdown – both of them finding the soft spot in the zone for a 10-7 Pittsburgh lead that the Steelers took to halftime.
The Steelers were nearly as impressive on their opening drive of the third quarter, but they also took advantage of two unsportsmanlike penalties on the Minnesota defense. After a 16-yard Mendenhall run and a 16-yard end-around by Wallace, Pat Williams was caught with a facemask. Mendenhall moved it inside the red zone with a 9-yard run, but Benny Sapp was called for a late hit on Ben Roethlisberger to put the ball at the 8-yard line. The defense played smarter and the Steelers were forced to take a 27-yard field goal and a 13-7 lead.
The Vikings responded with their own scoring drive, but they would end being disappointed having to settle for a field goal. Using the intermediate passing game, Favre moved the ball across midfield and, sitting on the Steelers 35, he hit Rice for a 34-yard pass. However, the Vikings failed to get it in the end zone on three straight attempts and had to settle for an 18-yard field goal to pull within three points, 13-10.
As the game moved to the fourth quarter, the Vikings caught a big break. Following a 35-yard pass play to Santonio Holmes, in which he broke multiple tackles, the Steelers were at the 9-yard line. Mendenhall gained 5 yards before Pat Williams punched out the ball and Madieu Williams recovered at the 3-yard line.
The Vikings struggled all the way down the field on the ensuing drive. Favre connected on three of his four passes as they moved to their own 37-yard line. But a 35-yard pass to Rice was nullified on a holding call against Bryant McKinnie, and they continued to go backwards with an illegal shift and a false start. It would take an incredible 25-yard sideline catch by Rice that needed a challenge to get the Vikings a first down, but that seemed to open it up. Peterson ran for 19 and caught an 11-yard reception. However, a 10-yard touchdown pass to Rice was nullified on a tripping call against Jeff Dugan. Three plays later, Brett Keisel stripped the ball from Favre and LaMarr Woodley picked it up and rumbled 77 yards for a touchdown and a 20-10 lead with 6:23 to play.
Just when it seemed perilously close to over, Harvin returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown and the Vikings were back in it only 11 seconds later, trailing 20-17.
The defense held and Favre would have one more chance at a fourth-quarter comeback. With 3:21 to play, he started a march down the field and picked up one first down before Peterson provided an explosive play. Facing third-and-4, Favre threw a short pass to Peterson, who lowered the shoulder on CB William Gay and sprinted for a 29-yard gain to the 26 yard-line. But after a 7-yard pass to Taylor, Favre went back to the backup running back on a screen pass. It went off Taylor's hands and into the arms of backup linebacker Keyaron Fox, who returned the ball 82 yards for a touchdown that turned a potential game-winning or game-tying drive into the dagger that put the Vikings away, 27-17.
Time and again, the Vikings had chances to the lead late in the game, but squandered chances squeezed the life out their undefeated run. They lost on the road to the defending Super Bowl champions, but they can still sew up a successful first half of the season if they turn around their mistakes for a highly anticipated return of Favre to Lambeau Field.
An uncharacteristic Vikings loss, 27-17
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