On a play by play basis, this was far from the team's best game this year. The offense couldn't get into a rhythm. The defense let up long drives. Minnesota held the ball for 36 minutes to the Steelers 24. That doesn't sound like a winning recipe against one of the best teams in the league.
But, as Mike Tomlin likes to say, the splash plays made all the difference.
The first "splash" play wasn't a turnover. In fact, it was a big play from the Vikings. On 4th and 2, Sidney Rice got behind the defense for a long catch. It looked like it might be a touchdown, but Troy Polamalu caught Rice from behind and tackled him at the 1 yard line. The play seemed meaningless at the time, but after three consecutive plays that resulted in no gain and an ultra-conservative field goal from Brad Childress, Troy's tackle saved 4 points.
The second splash play was made by a player that hasn't been mentioned much this year - Brett Keisel. Keisel beat Steve Hutchinson, one of the best guards in the game, and stripped Favre. After Woodley picked up the ball, we saw an envoy of black and gold surrounding him on his way to the end zone. A marvelous sight that we've seen too few times this year.
The third splash play was more luck than skill. But the Steelers haven't seen many balls bounce their way early in the season. A ball thrown a little hard and high caused Chester Taylor to tip it into the hands of Keyaron Fox.
The Steelers picked a good day to finally win the turnover battle.
After the game, Brad Childress described the Vikings loss as fluky.
Bad etiquette? Perhaps. But Childress was right. The Vikings outplayed the Steelers in nearly every facet of the game.
The Steelers offense was out of sorts all day. Big Ben looked uncomfortable in the pocket. Despite a well played game by the O-line, Ben failed to find open receivers. Whether that was a case of the Vikings great coverage or Ben not accepting the check downs provided to him, who knows. But with Antoine Winfield out of the game, I certainly thought the offense would be more successful than it was. Perhaps the most surprising occurance was the success of the Steelers running game against the stout front of the Vikings. As a team, the Steelers averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Mendenhall averaged 6.9 yards per carry. For the second time in three weeks, it's striking that Mendenhall isn't getting more carries. The easy explanation is that the team is a pass first team. But this week, it may be more of the fact that the offense couldn't sustain drives, so the opportunities just weren't there.
Despite what you may hear and read, the 2008 Steelers defense was not back. The Vikings offense moved the ball easily throughout the last three quarters and racked up 386 yards, a season high let up by the defense. Considering that the defense only allowed 300 yards in a game one time last season, this wasn't a dominating defensive performance. But it was an opportunistic one.
Brett Favre lamented after the game, "There's a lot of 'what ifs' in a game like this. Pittsburgh can probably say the same thing,"
Pittsburgh can definitely say the same thing. Consider the variety of mistakes made by the Steelers:
- Penalty negates a Santonio Holmes touchdown
- Four offsides penalties
- 0-3 in the red zone, including a Mendenhall fumble at the 5 yard line
- A kickoff return touchdown allowed
- Ben Roethlisberger fumble late in the 4th quarter
But that's the beauty of splash plays. The cover the other mistakes.
As Mike Tomlin said after the game, "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...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."
5-2. Bye next week. Sounds good to me.