Last week, Sidney Rice had a career-high 176 yards receiving. He was even more valuable Sunday in Pittsburgh. Plus, get more than three dozen notes that help tell the story of the Vikings' 27-17 loss.
Talk to any offensive coordinator and they wax about wide receivers in their third NFL season. Unlike other positions where rookies can be strong contributors from Day One, wide receivers are a work in progress. The Randy Moss
types of the NFL are a rarity. Practically every wide receiver in the league hits his high water mark in his third season – the rationale being that it takes a year to adjust to the speed of the game and another to increase their strength and route-running ability.
is in his third year and, over the last two weeks, has emerged as Brett Favre
's new favorite target. In his first two seasons in the NFL, Rice caught 46 passes for 537 yards. Through seven games this season, he has caught 34 passes for 545 yards, 12th in the NFL in receptions and sixth in yards through Sunday's afternoon games.
Most of the damage has come in the last two weeks. Against the Ravens last week, he set a personal best with 176 receiving yards on six receptions. Sunday against the Steelers, he set a personal high with 11 catches for 136 yards. What makes his accomplishments even more impressive is that he had both a 10-yard touchdown catch and a 35-yard reception called back on a holding penalty on the other side of the field.
In two games against two of the better defenses in the NFL, Rice has caught 17 passes for 312 yards and a touchdown and is quickly emerging as a go-to receiver in the Vikings offense. It took Rice 32 games to post the first 100-yard receiving day of his career. It took him just one game to add a second.
The Vikings have a ton of playmakers on both sides of the ball, but suddenly Rice has added his name to the list of weapons in the Vikings arsenal and will give defensive coordinators another player to concern themselves with as they prepare for the Vikings down the line.
GAME DAY NOTES
The Vikings lost Bernard Berrian in the first half due to what appeared to be a hamstring injury. Perhaps as an indirect result, Favre had to use his entire complement – completing passes to 10 different receivers.
The Vikings dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 36:58, including 30:15 of the game's final 45 minutes, but that was clearly negated by the two turnovers returned for touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings ran 78 offensive plays, as opposed to just 49 for the Steelers. The Vikings had 386 total yards (297 passing, 89 rushing) to 259 for Pittsburgh (153 passing, 106 rushing).
The Vikings also dominated the third-down conversion battle. Minnesota made good on nine of 18 third-down chances, while the Steelers converted just four of 12 chances.
The Vikings came into Sunday's game as the least penalized team in the NFL, averaging just 4.5 penalties a game. Sunday they were hit with 11 penalties, as opposed to just three 5-yard penalties for Pittsburgh.
Most of the penalties were the maddening type for a head coach. A 35-yard pass to Rice was negated by a holding penalty on Bryant McKinnie, a touchdown that would have given the Vikings a 17-13 lead was negated by a botched tripping call on Jeff Dugan, four false start penalties and a pair of personal fouls on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Every Vikings offensive lineman except center John Sullivan was whistled for a false start penalty. Hearing Steve Hutchinson's name was unusual, because it was the first penalty called on him in an amazing 27 games.
Both teams were brutal in the red zone after being ranked at the top of the category all season. The Vikings scored just one touchdown on five trips into the red zone, while the Steelers were 0-for-3.
The two offenses combined to score just two touchdowns, while the defenses and special teams accounted for three touchdowns.
Adrian Peterson was held in check, rushing for 69 yards on 18 carries with a high of 19 yards. Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall led his team with 69 yards rushing as well, but on just 10 carries.
The Vikings run defense is again going to come under some scrutiny after allowing the Steelers to average more than five yards per rushing attempt Sunday – a continuing trend this season.
Willie Parker has been the starting running back for years in Pittsburgh, but in Sunday's game, he had just one carry for two yards – fewer carries than Mendenhall, third-down back Mewelde Moore and wide receiver Mike Wallace.
After averaging more than 300 yards a game, Ben Roethlisberger completed 14 of 26 passes for just 175 yards Sunday.
Favre completed 34 of 51 passes for 334 yards – with 242 of those yards coming in the second half.
With Berrian out, Rice took over in the second half, catching nine of his 11 passes for 123 yards.
Peterson tied a career high for both receptions (4) and receiving yards (60) Sunday. His first 60-yard receiving game came in his NFL debut, when he took a screen pass 60 yards for a touchdown against Atlanta.
Greg Lewis had just one catch coming into Sunday's game – the game-winning touchdown against San Francisco – but added four to his total Sunday. Fullback Naufahu Tahi set a career high with three receptions and Jaymar Johnson caught the first pass of his career.
Percy Harvin had another big day, scoring his second touchdown on a kickoff return this season and his fourth overall TD of the year. He had five kickoff returns for 167 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown, caught three passes for 42 yards and had one run for seven yards, despite playing with an injured left shoulder.
Hines Ward came into Sunday's game leading the NFL in receiving yards and tied for the lead in receptions. He caught just one pass for three yards.
Steelers linebacker James Farrior was all over the field. He was involved in 15 tackles (9 solo, 6 assists) and had a sack.
Pat Williams had his most productive game of the season, recording five tackles with one assist and forcing a fumble.
Jared Allen and Kevin Williams were effectively shut down all day. Allen finished with one tackle and one assists and Williams had just a lone tackle.
The Vikings had three sacks, but they didn't come from the typical sources. The starting front four had none, but the Vikings got sacks from Jimmy Kennedy, Ben Leber and Asher Allen – making his pro debut.
Ray Edwards had a big gaffe in the fourth quarter that could have cost the Vikings dearly. On a fumble by Roethlisberger caused by Asher Allen, instead of falling on the ball in Pittsburgh territory with 3:30 to play, Edwards tried to pick up the ball and run with it. Instead, he knocked the ball out of bounds, the Steelers retained possession and were able to punt – gaining about 30 yards of real estate in the process.
The Vikings made a good challenge late in the game that could have been the difference between winning and losing. Rice made a toe-drag catch on the sideline on a third-and-18 pass that was ruled out of bounds. The Vikings challenged, the play was overturned and the drive continued – only to be snuffed by the fumble return for a TD by Woodley.
Sunday was the first time the Vikings entered the fourth quarter of a game behind.
The Vikings offense had two drives of at least 13 plays in the second half.
Thanks to penalties, the Vikings offense gained 119 yards on their first drive of the fourth quarter, yet didn't find the end zone.
In the first half, both teams dropped to pass 21 times. The Vikings ran 15 times in the first half, while the Steelers ran just seven times.
The Steelers held the advantage in total yards in the first half with 146 (108 passing, 38 rushing) to 122 for the Vikings (78 passing, 44 rushing) – despite the Vikings holding the ball for 17:08 of the half, including 10:25 of the second quarter.
Individually in the first half, Favre completed 10 of 19 passes for 92 yards. Peterson had 11 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown, and four receivers – Harvin, Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe and Berrian – all had two receptions.
For the Steelers, Roethlisberger completed 11 of 19 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Mendenhall led the ground attack with just 17 yards on four carries and the receiving leaders were tight end Heath Miller with four catches for 28 yards and Wallace with three catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.
The four-point deficit the Steelers had when trailing 7-3 in the second quarter was their largest deficit of the season.
On the Vikings' second-quarter touchdown drive, at one point Favre threw eight straight passes to attack the Steelers defense.
Harvin was targeted on four straight third-down plays in the first and second quarter.
The Vikings had just 11 total yards in the first quarter – their worst opening quarter of the season.
The Steelers improved to 19-4 at home under head coach Mike Tomlin.
With Antoine Winfield out with a foot injury and the Steelers going with three wide receivers to start the game, Benny Sapp and Karl Paymah both started the game. Rookie Asher Allen also saw time on defense in his first game active with the Vikings.
Despite hosting numerous playoff games, Steelers fans apparently wanted to see Favre one last time. The crowd of 65,597 was a record for Heinz Field.
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