It’s not often that perhaps the most emotional and most memorable moment of a game occurs prior to the opening kickoff.
But the Steelers’ hosting of Minnesota on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field wasn’t just another game.
The Steelers paid tribute to Dan Rooney prior to the home opener, and the ceremony and celebration included quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sprinting from the tunnel as the offense was being introduced carrying a flag bearing Rooney’s initials, “D.M.R.”
Roethlisberger eventually passed the flag to linebacker William Gay, who waved it in front of the crowd.
“Mike Marchinsky (of the Steelers’ marketing department) bought it to my attention early in the week, said we might do it, would you be OK with it?” Roethlisberger explained. “I said absolutely, and then it kinda got nixed for some reason later in the week. And then on Saturday morning I went to Thomas Tull (of the Steelers ownership group) and told him, ‘Hey, we gotta talk to Mr. (Art) Rooney (II) about this because it’s too important not to do it.’
“I think Art was just nervous that it would be a burden to me or to whoever carried it. I was like, absolutely not, it would be an honor to honor him. And it just was, I think, very appropriate.”
Rooney passed away on April 13.
“He was a father, a grandfather figure to everybody,” Roethlisberger said. “He treated everybody the same. It didn’t matter who you were, where you came from, what you did, everybody was important to him. Always had time to shake your hand, look at you, talk to you.
“And obviously, he drafted me, took a chance on me. I know he went into that draft room and said, ‘We’re not passing him up,’ and so I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for him. Just a lotta love for him and the family.”
Art Rooney II received the game ball following the Steelers’ 26-9 victory.
DELAYED REACTION: The Steelers maintained nothing changed regarding their approach on defense when they found out Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford was inactive.
Bradford had been classified as questionable (knee) on Friday.
Linebacker Bud Dupree found out Case Keenum was replacing Bradford later than most.
“I didn’t know Bradford wasn’t playing until the second drive of the game,” Dupree admitted. “I really wasn’t paying attention to the number, I just knew there was a quarterback and I was just looking at my assignments.
“It was a blooper moment for me. I got on the sideline and said, ‘Why didn’t they tell me Sam wasn’t in the game?’”
GETTING BETTER: The Steelers’ offense improved statistically from what it had managed during the regular-season opener at Cleveland. The Steelers scored more points (26-21), registered more first downs (22-16), gained more yards (335-290) and possessed the ball longer (34:22-28:50) than they had against the Browns.
Running back Le’Veon Bell saw his carries jump by 17 (from 10 to 27) and improved his rushing total from 32 to 87 yards.
“I felt good,” Bell said. “I felt about the same. Obviously, I’m going to continue to get better each and every day, each and every week, but I didn’t feel a drastic change.”
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant had three catches for 91 yards against the Vikings, including a 51-yard reception and a 27-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Bryant had caught two passes for 14 yards in Cleveland.
“Each game I’m getting better, more into it,” Bryant said. “I’m going to get better this week in practice and go out and play hard again.”
TAKING THEIR SHOTS: The Steelers threw deep repeatedly against the Vikings, as they had intended to all along.
“Their safeties don’t get a lot of depth a lot of times, so it gave us opportunities,” Roethlisberger said. “What they do is they get a pass rush. They create the ball coming out of you hands quick.
“They gave us looks that we could have taken advantage of, which we did. We got two big pass interference plays, Martavis caught another one. We made some things happen, but that rush was really good. They got in there and made me throw it early sometimes.”
HE SAID IT: “As a defense, as much as we’re cutting down the errors, I think we can get even better. I’m excited to see what we do in the next game and what we learn from the next game. We just have to keep challenging ourselves and not get complacent. Just not getting lulled to sleep, understand it’s a 60-minute game. I know we cut down on the big plays, but we still gave up a couple. Once we cut that out, we’re going to be even better.” _ Defensive end Cam Heyward.