The Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings entered the Week 14 Thursday Night Football game at a crossroads in their seasons. Both teams desperately needed a victory to keep their postseason hopes alive and well, and coming out of Week 13 they found themselves in different positions.
The Steelers were coming off a resounding win over the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, while the Vikings lost on the road to the Detroit Lions, the Lions’ first win of the 2021 regular season. Nonetheless, both teams were looking to win Thursday night on a short week and get their season headed in the right direction.
The visiting Steelers won the coin toss, and chose to defer their possession to the start of the second half. Kirk Cousins and company took the field and it took them no time to get the ball to their No. 1 receiver Justin Jefferson. A 20-yard Dalvin Cook run moved the Vikings into Pittsburgh territory, but the drive stalled in Greg Joseph’s field goal range. However, the 53-yard kick was missed wide left, giving the Steelers’ offense prime field position.
Starting at their own 43-yard line, the Steelers were able to string together several first downs, one being a 4th down conversion run by Ben Roethlisberger. Facing a third and 19, Diontae Johnson’s reception set up a 49-yard Chris Boswell field goal attempt. However, like Joseph before him, Boswell missed left giving the ball right back to Minnesota.
With 5:32 left in the first quarter, it took the Vikings little time to strike first. A 30-yard Dalvin Cook run set up the Vikings in the red-zone, and it was Kirk Cousins finding Justin Jefferson for the first score of the game. Joseph’s extra point was missed, making the score 6-0 with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings took their next possession and quickly moved into scoring range, but the drive stalled as the field shortened. Three straight incomplete passes equated in a Joseph field goal, making the score 9-0 with 14:43 left in the first half.
After a Pittsburgh three-and-out, it was another deep pass to Justin Jefferson and a huge Dalvin Cook run which set the Vikings up in Pittsburgh territory. After converting a 1st and 20, it was Cook who scampered for a 25-yard touchdown run. After the extra point, the score was 16-0.
Thankfully, the half ended with the Steelers only trailed 23-0, this after Ben Roethlisberger was hit and sacked early and often via four sacks in the first half.
The Steelers received the football to start the second half, and after a Ray-Ray McCloud return was negated by a holding penalty, it backed the Steelers up in their own end to start. They failed to get a first down before punting the ball back to Minnesota.
The Vikings turned their first second half possession into a field goal, to make the score 26-0. The next Steelers’ possession equated in a Ben Roethlisberger interception, and the Vikings turned that turnover into another Joseph field goal to make the score 29-0.
Pittsburgh was finally able to put a scoring drive together, and it was highlighted by rookie running back Najee Harris. Harris had tremendous runs, and caught the team’s first touchdown to make the score 29-7 with 2:11 left in the third quarter.
A Kirk Cousins interception gave the Steelers new life, and they were facing a 2nd and goal at the end of the third quarter. The Vikings were flagged with a defensive pass interference call on Diontae Johnson, and Najee Harris plunged into the end zone on the next play. Chris Boswell’s extra point made the score 29-14 with 14:49 left in regulation.
The Vikings didn’t have many three-and-outs in this game, but they had one on their next drive, and it gave the Steelers’ offense new life. Big passes to Diontae Johnson moved the ball in Minnesota territory, but a strike to James Washington put the Steelers on the board again. Trailing by nine, the Steelers decided to go for two, but failed. The score remained 29-20 with 12:11 left in the fourth quarter.
Any momentum gained by the score was lost when Cousins hit K.J. Osborn on the first series for a 62-yard touchdown. The extra point made the score 36-20 with 10:51 remaining.
The Steelers would punt on their next possession, and when it all looked lost, Cousins was intercepted by Akhello Witherspoon for the second time on the night. The 42-yard return set the offense up in scoring range. It didn’t take long for Roethlisberger to find Pat Freiermuth for the touchdown. Pittsburgh’s two-point conversion was completed to Diontae Johnson, making the score 36-28 with 4:14 left in regulation.
The Vikings were unable to ice out the clock, giving the ball back to Roethlisberger and company with 2:13 left in the game and no timeouts. After Jordan Berry pinned the Steelers as their own three, two big strikes to Chase Claypool moved the ball into Minnesota territory. Ray-Ray McCloud set up the offense at the 24 yard line. Diontae Johnson caught a pass underneath and was able to get out of bounds with two seconds left on the clock.
With one more shot at the end zone, Roethlisberger’s pass intended for Pat Freiermuth fell incomplete, meaning a 36-28 loss on Thursday Night Football.
The loss moves the Steelers’ record to 6-6-1 as they now prepare for the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 at Heinz Field. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the team as they prepare for the rest of the regular season.