Ben Roethlisberger looked like a punch-drunk, way-past-his-prime heavyweight fighter hanging on for one last payday. The future Hall of Fame quarterback's birth certificate says he's 39 years old. The Vikings made him look 75 in the first half Thursday night.
Of course, things can never be easy for these Vikings, right?
Not even when leading 29-0.
Roethlisberger emerged from the locker room after halftime a spry version of Big Ben, and he knew exactly how to exploit the weak link in the Vikings defense.
He picked on their cornerbacks. Over and over.
Suddenly, a laugher came down to one final play, one final throw to the end zone, a last gasp by the Steelers that would have served as the nail in the coffin of the Vikings season and Mike Zimmer's coaching tenure in Minnesota.
Roethlisberger's pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth into a tight window in the end zone was on the money, but Vikings safeties Xavier Woods and Harrison Smith converged to jar the ball loose as time expired, allowing the home team to exhale after avoiding a monumental choke.
The Vikings escaped with a 36-28 win in a game that felt over at halftime. But their leaky secondary failed them again.
Unlike four days earlier when their defensive backs retreated on a walk-off touchdown by the Detroit Lions, the Vikings came up with the decisive play on the ball this time.
The outcome shouldn't have been so tense and up-for-grabs, not after taking a 23-0 halftime lead.
Zimmer's defense ambushed the sleepy Steelers in the first half. With linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr back from injury, Zimmer cut loose his blitzes to harass Roethlisberger, who looked like a statue in the pocket in his 18th season.
The Vikings sacked him four times in the first half while holding the Steelers to zero points and 66 total yards. Roethlisberger's teammates did him no favors by failing to pick up blitzes, which gave defenders free runs. Roethlisberger slowly picked himself off the turf after absorbing a few big hits.
The beatdown was so one-sided that you kept waiting for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to throw in the Terrible Towel. Even the usual bugaboo didn't haunt the Vikings — they didn't surrender any points in the final two minutes of the first half.
The second half was a different story. It was a mess. Roethlisberger finally got some protection from his line, and he went after the Vikings cornerbacks who had a miserable performance.
Big Ben passed for 240 yards and three touchdowns after halftime and was sacked only once.
With starter Bashaud Breeland on the sideline fighting an illness, backup Kris Boyd got a costly taunting penalty that aided Pittsburgh's first touchdown. That gave the Steelers new life.
Cameron Dantzler drew a third-down pass interference penalty that gave the Steelers the ball at the 1-yard line on their second touchdown.
Roethlisberger kept picking on them, even veteran Patrick Peterson, their best corner.
The Steelers scored touchdowns on four of five possessions to turn a party atmosphere inside U.S. Bank Stadium into a feeling of dread. Vikings fans are accustomed to soul-crushing losses, but this one would have been a doozy.
The Steelers' final possession started at their own 4 with 2 minutes 16 seconds left and no timeouts.
Roethlisberger pulled the offense out of that hole on a 38-yard completion to Chase Claypool down the sideline, an acrobatic catch over Breeland, who was called for pass interference on the play.
The drive kept marching toward the end zone with Roethlisberger peppering the defense with quick passes, setting up one last play. The ball was on the 12-yard line with three seconds left.
For a split second, it looked as if Freiermuth would haul in the pass, but Woods and Smith arrived in a split second to save the game.
Nothing is ever easy with this team.