Hartman: Vikings gave this one away to Pittsburgh

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2009 - 5:56 AM

Minnesota thoroughly outplayed the Steelers but made way too many mistakes to remain undefeated.

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Brett Favre could only watch as the Steelers returned his fumble for an 82-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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The 27-17 loss by the Vikings to the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers was a hard loss to take.

In fact, after the game coach Brad Childress, realizing the negative feeling the players would have after this tough loss, walked around the locker room talking to most every player.

This was a game that the Steelers didn't win. The Vikings handed it to them. They might have won this game by a minimum of two touchdowns if it wasn't for the many mistakes they made.

The Vikings coaching staff did a great job preparing the team. Childress and his staff will be very unhappy when they view the video of a game they should have won.

The play of the defense was outstanding except for the one touchdown they gave to uncovered Steelers rookie receiver Mike Wallace on a 40-yard pass in the second quarter.

Mistakes hurt them

I can't recall when a Viking offense blew as many opportunities as they did Sunday. Despite winning most of the statistical battles, they lost because of three mistakes and their failure to score from the 1-yard-line on three tries and settled for an 18-yard field goal with 4 minutes, 44 seconds left.

A fumble by Brett Favre and pass that bounced out of Chester Taylor's hands were returned for Steelers touchdowns when the Vikings were knocking on the door to take command of the game.

They were trailing 13-10 with 6:42 left and had driven down to the Steelers 8-yard line. But Favre was sacked and fumbled. LaMarr Woodley picked it up and ran 77 yards for a touchdown.

The Vikings bounced right back on a Percy Harvin 88-yard kickoff return and then held the Steelers and got the ball back with 3:21 left. Plenty of time for Favre to win it. He methodically moved the team down to the Steelers 19-yard line with 1:15 left. Another last-minute victory looked like a strong possibility.

But Taylor let a screen pass from Favre glance off his hands to Keyaron Fox, who ran 82 yards for another defensive touchdown and the eventual winnig margin.

Those weren't the only mistakes. Sidney Rice scored what would have been a go-ahead touchdown with 8:16 left, but it was called back because of a tripping penalty on Jeff Dugan. Three plays later Favre's sack and fumble gave Pittsburgh its first defensive touchdown.

That very questionable tripping call could have turned the whole game around.

Steelers outplayed

Those mistakes wiped out the Vikings' superior play. Favre outpassed the great Ben Roethlisberger 334 yards to 175. The Vikings had 21 first downs to just 14 by the Steelers. They had 386 total yards to 259 by the winners. The only category the Steelers led offensively was rushing, 106 to 89.

But the Vikings, who were the least penalized team in football coming into the game, committed 11 for 78 yards to just three for 15 by Pittsburgh.

Oh, and the announcers doing the game had rarely heard of defensive delay of game, which was called on the Vikings and gave the Steelers a first down with a little more than 4 minutes remaining.

Here's the thing. Even though they lost, I thought the Vikings were the better team because of great performances by two of their youngest players -- Rice and Harvin.

Including the touchdown, Harvin had 167 yards in returns. He also caught three passes for 42 yards.

Rice, in addition to the touchdown that was called back, caught an impressive 11 of the 14 passes he was targeted for, good for 136 yards. And Adrian Peterson caught four passes for 60 yards, including a bone-jarring 29-yarder in which he crashed into Pittsburgh's William Gay just after catching the ball, amazingly stayed on his feet and then ran right over him and took the ball to the Minnesota 45 with just under 2 minutes left. Peterson rushed 18 times for 69 yards.

There were lot of good things the Vikings did in this game, but the fumbles and penalties took away the chance to win a game they should have won.

Knew Roethlisberger

It's no surprise to Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi that Roethlisberger is a great quarterback.

Maturi was athletic director at Miami of Ohio for two years when Roethlisberger was the school's quarterback.

A lot of memories came back to Maturi as he watched Roethlisberger on television. Roethlisberger, who has led the Steelers to two Super Bowl victories, completed 14 out of 26 passes Sunday for 175 yards and one touchdown. He had an 87.8 passer rating.

"The interesting thing about Ben is that he never played quarterback until his senior year in high school," recalled Maturi. "He was a wide receiver earlier in his high school career.

"He was a highly recruited quarterback in Ohio, went to camp that was staged by the late Terry Hoeppner, who was our football coach, made a commitment and kept it even though he was highly recruited by Notre Dame, Ohio State and many other big-time schools.

"The season after I left, Miami beat Iowa. They were a top-rated team in the country."

Maturi talked about what a good student and a real good person Roethlisberger was.

"The last time I saw him was at the funeral for Hoeppner, and he still called me Mister," Maturi said.

No QB controversy

Well, for a change, the Vikings don't have a quarterback controversy.

But some of the Gophers fans are trying to create one between Adam Weber, who played against the Ohio State starters, and freshman MarQueis Gray, who saw most of his action versus the Ohio State reserves.

"We're very fortunate to have two good quarterbacks," said coach Tim Brewster. ''Adam Saturday in the first half was playing outstanding, putting the ball exactly where he wanted to put it.

"Unfortunately, we had some dropped balls. And we've got to have guys help. Our quarterbacks are not going to make perfect throws.

"Our guys got to go make hard, tough catches, and unfortunately we had numerous dropped passes and that was unfortunate, particularly for Adam.

"I thought MarQueis Gray stepped in the game and really played well. Showed great command. Showed great poise. He's doing the things that we know he can do, and he'll continue to be part of our offense. He'll continue to grow. His package will continue to grow with what we're trying to get done.

"Weber is the starting quarterback."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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