The Steelers defense took matters into their own hands Sunday in the fourth quarter, not waiting for the sporadic offense. And even though the special teams tried to give it away they responded again with their second touchdown to remove the Minnesota Vikings from the ranks of the undefeated, while making a statement to the rest of the NFL that they are still the best in the game.
|OUT OF BOUNDS— The Vikings Benny Sapp applies a late hit to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Sapp was penalized for the infraction.
Behind the two fourth quarter touchdowns by the defensive unit, a 77-yard fumble recovery by LaMarr Woodley and an 82-yard interception touchdown by Keyaron Fox, to secure a 27-17 victory, the Steelers (5-2) were able to keep place with the surprising Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) who embarrassed the Chicago Bears 45-10.
The defense shut down the best player in football, Adrian Peterson, holding him to 69 yards on 18 carries and forcing Brett Favre to put the ball in the air 57 times, completing 34 for 334 yards while allowing just 10 points. But a sporadic offense and poor special teams kept the Vikings close. After Woodley scored the first touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the game, they thought, the special teams gave up an 88-yard kickoff return by Percy Harvin, that pulled the Vikings back to within a field goal, 20-17, a three and out by the offense put Favre and company back on the field to pull out the victory like they had done so many games this season on their way to a 6-0 record. But the defense once again would have none of that as Dick LeBeau’s men put constant pressure on Favre, stopped Peterson cold and stuck like glue to the wide receivers. Then came the big play, Favre hit his receiver Chester Taylor, but the ball bounced off his hands into the air and Fox, subbing for the injured Lawrence Timmons at linebacker, grabbed it out of the air and behind a special escort from his teammates, ran it into the end zone, giving the defense 14 points in the fourth quarter. This has been the dead zone for the Steelers this season, they have done nothing in the fourth quarter until this game.
|TEXTBOOK TACKLE— Steelers linebacker James Farrior makes a textbook tackle on Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
Fox also made a great play on the special teams before that series stopping Harvin in his tracks on a kickoff return, making sure he didn’t repeat his previous feat. The defense, headed by the linebackers, was outstanding throughout the game, bending, but not breaking, while holding one of the most potent offenses in the league in check.
On the offensive side of the ball Ben Roethlisberger had a subpar game, completing just 14 of 26 passes for 175 yards while Rashard Mendenhall matched Peterson with 69 yards on just 10 carries. Hines Ward entered the game leading the league in receptions and yardage, but only caught one pass for three yards dropping him well behind the leaders in that race. Roethlisberger totally ignored him, going to Heath Miller six times for 38 yards, Santonio Holmes, two for 59 yards and Wallace three for 72 yards. The rushing game wasn’t much better, even though Mendenhall did look impressive at times. Willie Parker carried the ball once for two yards and Mewelde Moore four times for 14.
|GAME CLINCHER— Steelers linebacker Keyaron Fox is off to the end zone for a 82-yard interception return with one minute left in the game to clinch the win over the Vikings.
Young Sidney Rice was very impressive for the Vikings as he gave William Gay fits, grabbing 11 passes for 136 yards.
The Steelers go into the bye week with a 5-2 record and will have extra time to prepare for the undefeated Denver Broncos. They would probably love to hand another undefeated team their first defeat, plus if they are undefeated when they face the Steelers, that will mean that they will have beaten rival Baltimore, taking them out of the title hunt. At 3-3, the Ravens desperately need the win to stay within striking distance of the Steelers and Bengals.
The Bengals will also enjoy a bye week after destroying the Chicago Bears in one of the most impressive games of the season. They put it all together, offensively, defensively and special teams. Carson Palmer was flawless as he went 20 of 24 for 233 yards and five touchdowns. Two went to Chad Ochocinco who gathered in 10 catches for 118 yards while Cedric Benson kept the defense honest, compiling 189 yards on 37 carries, moving him back into first place in rushing yardage. The defense held Matt Forte to just 24 yards on the ground and forced Jay Cutler to the air 37 times, completing 26 for 251 yards. Barring a major injury, this team looks very impressive, they can beat you on the ground, in the air and defensively. The Steelers are going to have their hands full when they meet again at Heinz Field. The pressure will also be on the Steelers to continue to win because it’s going to take an exceptionally good team to beat the Bengals, if they continue to play the way they have in the first half of the season.
|FUMBLE RETURN— LaMarr Woodley of the Steelers picks up a fumble in front of the Vikings Brett Favre and returns it 77 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Cleveland Browns continue to be one of the worst teams in the NFL as they fell to the Green Bay Packers, 31-3. Derek Anderson was 12 of 29 for 99 yards, while Aaron Rodgers picked the Browns defense apart, going 15 of 20 for 246 yards and three touchdowns, with Ryan Grant picking up 148 yards on the ground. Cleveland will face the Bears this week.