You expected Gary Anderson to trot to midfield, and miss a kick.
You expected Blair Walsh to show up, icicles dangling from his chin.
You expected Randall Cunningham to fumble, Drew Pearson to push off, Denny Green to order a kneel-down, and Naufahu Tahi to join the huddle as the 12th man.
The Minnesota Vikings reportedly won a football game on Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. At the end of a bizarre night, a football fell to purple turf and the scoreboard read Vikings 36, Steelers 28.
When Vikings safeties Xavier Woods and Harrison Smith crunched Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth in the end zone, causing an incompletion on the last play of the game, the Vikings had … won?
Is that what it's called when you try to blow a 29-point lead late in the third quarter and hold on only because an opponent couldn't?
In mathematical terms, the Vikings salvaged their playoff hopes.
In emotional terms, they left little doubt that this team is missing something vital, something usually described in cliched terms. Heart. Guts. Leadership. Killer instinct. Football smarts.
The Vikings almost lost a game in which they not only led by 29 points, but did so despite physically dominating their opponent for almost three quarters.
After Dalvin Cook's second touchdown run, with 2:20 left in the second quarter, he had carried 13 times for 144 yards. He finished the first half with a franchise-record 153 yards, as the Vikings outgained Pittsburgh, 300 yards to 66.
Cook entered the second half needing 144 yards to break Adrian Peterson's franchise single-game rushing record.
It's almost impossible to lose a game when you run over the opponent at will and build a 29-point lead. The Vikings almost did it, because their braintrust is not to be trusted.
They passed when the simple act of handing the ball to Cook would have sealed the victory. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw two interceptions that enabled the comeback, and the Vikings' cornerbacks began to panic, and a Steelers team that seemed unable to block or tackle in the first half came to life.
The Vikings are the football world's defibrillator, reviving lifeless opponents as created for that purpose.
This is such a strange, talented, underwhelming, untrustworthy group that their key figures may have proved that it's time for a change during a prime-time victory.
General Manager Rick Spielman saw the quarterback he has signed to two massive contracts try to give away an insurmountable lead.
Coach Mike Zimmer watched his defense wilt and his hand-picked offensive coordinator, Klint Kubiak, choose to pass when only passing could give the Steelers a chance to rally.
Cousins summoned the ghosts of decades of Vikings' failures, alternating beautiful downfield passes with throws that would get an eighth-grader benched for life.
If fans could dampen their emotions, they might find all of this endlessly entertaining. The Vikings are capable of beating just about anyone, and even more capable of losing to almost anyone, or blowing any lead.
In the past five games, they have beaten the talented Chargers, upset the excellent Packers, folded against the mediocre 49ers, lost to the previously winless Lions and, yes, won while embarrassing themselves against the Steelers.
The only unifying theory for this strange Vikings season is that they are too stubborn to fold but not reliable enough to excel. They are about as trustworthy as a street-corner crypto salesman.
Cook should be livid. A couple of weeks ago, he was lying on the turf in Santa Clara, players from both teams kneeling and praying for him. He was expected to miss at least two games, but returned earlier than expected and produced one of the best games of his life.
He finished with 205 yards on 27 carries, and he took a massive hit on a 17-yard catch over the middle late in the fourth quarter.
Cook was brilliant, the game was won, and yet the Vikings may have hit a new low in this strange season late Thursday night, when they awakened the echoes of so many failures past.