By Teresa Varley
It was a defensive battle from the onset and it was only fitting that two defensive touchdowns sealed the Steelers 27-17 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The win improves the Steelers record to 5-2 heading into their bye week, while the 6-1 Vikings suffered their first loss of the season.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley returned a fumble recovery for a score, while fellow linebacker Keyaron Fox took an interception the distance in the closing minutes of the game for the win.
"They pounded a couple in on us but we stayed in the fight, guys didn't blink and to their credit, we were able to win the game," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "When you put a couple of splash plays defensively; you put 14 points on the board defensively you can overcome a lot of errors.
"We were far from a perfect team, but we won today. We'll accept that, we're very complimentary of that football team that we played today, they're good. It's good to get into a bye winning a few in a row and we'll continue to improve in our areas of deficiency, kickoff coverage being one of them."
Brett Favre opened it up for the Vikings with an eight-yard completion to Sidney Rice, but the defense brought pressure fast. James Harrison knocked Adrian Peterson for a one-yard loss and Ryan Clark pressured Favre, forcing an incompletion to Percy Harvin and a punt.
Mendenhall continues to be the strength of the running game, rattling off a 14-yard carry off right tackle to get things rolling. But they came to a quick halt when Roethlisberger was sacked for an eight-yard loss and they couldn't dig out of the hole.
The defense continued to bring it on the next series when James Farrior sacked Favre for an eight-yard loss back to the Vikings 10-yard line. Chester Taylor managed a four-yard carry, but on third down the defense shut them down again.
The Steelers got the ball back with excellent field position after the punt at the Vikings 49-yard line, but weren't able to go anywhere. Roethlisberger dumped it off to Mendenhall, who was knocked for a one-yard loss. Mendenhall took it off right guard for three yards, but on third down Roethlisberger's pass to Mewelde Moore was tipped and fell incomplete.
The defensive battle continued on the next drive. After allowing the Vikings their first first down of the game, Troy Polamalu busted through to knock Peterson for a three-yard loss. Woodley followed that up by sacking Favre for a six-yard loss. On third down a swarming defense wasn't letting Taylor go anywhere, stuffing the middle for no gain.
Chris Kluwe's19-yard punt gave the Steelers the ball with excellent field position at the Vikings 39-yard line to start their next drive. Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for three yards and Mike Wallace was able to pull in a 10-yard reception. Wallace went around left end on the reverse for 13 yards and tight end David Johnson caught his first NFL pass for four-yards. Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes near the goal line for what appeared to be a seven-yard touchdown, but a pass interference call on Heath Miller negated the score. Roethlisberger was sacked on the next play, forcing the Steelers to settle for a 39-yard Jeff Reed field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Peterson provided the Vikings with a little punch with a 15-yard carry. Woodley hit Favre for a five-yard sack, but it was negated by a defensive offside call on Casey Hampton. The defense came back strong, though, knocking Peterson for a two-yard loss and pressuring Favre on third down, forcing an incompletion.
After the Steelers had a quick three-and-out, the Vikings offense went to work. Favre aired it out to Harvin for 28 yards and added an 11-yard completion to Bernard Barrian. Visanthe Shiancoe pulled in a nine-yard reception and Peterson took it for nine yards to the three-yard line. The defense held on first and second down, but on third down Peterson took it into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-3 lead.
The Steelers offense came to life, taking over with just 1:39 in the half. Roethlisberger hit Holmes for 14 yards and Miller for nine. Wallace then came through in the clutch, grabbing a 22-yard reception at the 40-yard line and then hitting pay dirt with a 40-yard touchdown reception to put the Steelers up 10-7 at halftime.
The momentum continued in the Steelers favor to start the second half. Mendenhall took it for 16 yards and Wallace for six, with a 15-yard face mask against Pat Williams tacked on. Mendenhall went off right tackle for nine yards and on third-and-one Roethlisberger took it for two yards, and was hit out of bounds by Benny Sapp who was flagged for a personal foul, giving the Steelers the ball at the eight-yard line. The Vikings tightened their grip near the goal line, holding the black and gold to a 27-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, extending the lead to 13-7.
The Vikings looked primed to take the lead when Favre drove them down to the one-yard line, with the key play a 34-yard completion to Rice. With their backs against the wall the defense came up big once again, stopping them three straight times in their effort to gain a yard. Instead of seven, the Vikings had to settle for an 18-yard Ryan Longwell field goal, pulling them within a field goal at 13-10.
A perfect opportunity to extend the lead slipped away from the Steelers. Holmes made a great catch on a slant and broke free from multiple defenders for a 45-yard gain to the Vikings nine-yard line. But on the next play, Mendenhall went up the middle for five yards, before fumbling at the Vikings four-yard line and Minnesota was able to recover.
Minnesota got moving with a few short completions and then Favre hit Rice for 17 yards to the 37-yard line. Harvin took it around left end to the 44-yard line, but after that the Vikings started to go in reverse. A 35-yard completion to Rice was called back for offensive holding, and an illegal shift and false start pushed the Vikings back to the 29-yard line. Facing third-and-18 Favre aired it out to Rice, who was able to keep both feet inbounds and pull in the 25-yard reception to move the chains. Peterson bounced to the outside for a 19-yard run and added an 11-yard reception to the 10-yard line. Favre hit Rice for a 10-yard touchdown, but it was called back because of a tripping call on Jeff Dugan, a penalty that proved costly.
On third down, Brett Keisel sacked Favre for a 15-yard loss, forcing a fumble. Woodley recovered the ball at the 23-yard line and rambled down the field for a 77-yard touchdown, putting the Steelers up 20-10.
The Vikings fired right back. Harvin was able to avoid the coverage on the kickoff and took it back 88 yards for a touchdown, bringing them back within a field goal at 20-17.
The Vikings defense was able to hold the Steelers on their next drive, pressuring Roethlisberger who fumbled out of bounds on third down.
With a record crowd at Heinz Field on the edge of their seats the Vikings came fighting back. But once again, the defense stepped up big. With second-and-three from the 19-yard line and 1:15 on the clock, Fox intercepted Favre and returned it 82-yards to seal a 27-17 win.