MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Minnesota’s six-game winning streak was built on a steady dose of losing teams.
Then Pittsburgh came to town.
The Steelers forced three turnovers and a safety in an 18-3 victory over the Vikings on a sluggish Sunday afternoon, with the only touchdown coming on Ben Roethlisberger’s 3-yard run in the second quarter.
Willie Parker rushed 14 times for 81 yards for Pittsburgh (9-5), which won its second consecutive game and stayed in step with San Diego (9-5) for the last AFC wild card spot.
“We did what we had to do,” receiver Hines Ward said. “We’ll take it.”
The Vikings (8-6) sealed their own demise at the end of an embarrassing week. Four players, including the injured Daunte Culpepper, were charged Thursday with three misdemeanors apiece for lewd behavior in the infamous bye-week boat party.
“Our focus was great all week. I don’t think that had anything to do with it,” said Brad Johnson, who threw two costly interceptions—including one in the end zone late in the first half.
“They beat our butts.”
The Vikings griped, too, about beating themselves.
“We are all human beings,” coach Mike Tice said. “I’d be a fool to say they’re not frustrated.”
The Vikings, who saw their wild-card hopes diminish, play at Baltimore next week and finish with a home game against division-leading Chicago. Five of their six wins during the winning streak came against teams with a combined record of 20-35 coming into the weekend.
Hundreds of Steelers fans were scattered throughout the Metrodome, waving their Terrible Towels. There was just as much yellow on the field, with referee Ed Hochuli’s crew calling 25 penalties for 224 yards.
“No turnovers. That’s the biggest thing,” said Roethlisberger, forgetting a muffed first-quarter punt return by Antwaan Randle El that gave Minnesota the ball at the 3-yard line. That was the first of four Vikings possessions inside their opponent’s 20, and the only time they scored.
One lousy field goal, by Paul Edinger.
“That’s embarrassing,” guard Adam Goldberg said. “That’s something we need to get remedied.”
Minnesota’s remedy for a 2-5 start to the season was a drastic spike in turnover margin, forcing 22 of them during the streak—which coincided with Johnson’s takeover at quarterback for Culpepper.
Those halcyon days came to a halt against a Pittsburgh team that was probably better than any the Vikings had beaten over the past month and a half.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t prepared or we were scared or anything,” Koren Robinson said. “At the same time, we were playing against a good defense, too. Sometimes the ball just don’t roll your way.”
Even the previously stellar special teams slumped for Minnesota. Rookie Chris Kluwe, punting with a sprained right knee that kept him out the previous week, sent an end-over-end kick to Randle El midway through the second quarter that was returned for 72 yards.
Seven plays later, Roethlisberger felt the rush, lowered his head and charged left toward the pylon with Pat Williams in pursuit—diving into the end zone for a 3-yard score and a 10-3 lead.
Rookie Ciatrick Fason collided with Robinson on Reed’s intentionally short kickoff in the third, fumbling and losing the ball to Pittsburgh’s Tyrone Carter—a former University of Minnesota star who once played for the Vikings. That led to Reed’s third field goal, this one from 26 yards, and a 16-3 advantage late in the quarter.
Roethlisberger, playing with a splint and glove on his right hand to protect his banged-up thumb, completed 10 of 15 passes for 149 yards and no turnovers while using a silent snap count most of the game to circumvent the crowd noise.
Johnson went 16-for-30 for 143 yards, including a woeful 2-for-9, 9-yard output after halftime. Minnesota managed 25 total yards in the final two quarters.
“I can’t say enough about the ‘D’,” Roethlisberger said. “It was amazing today. So much fun to watch.”
Robinson led the Vikings with three catches for 34 yards. … Steelers tight end Heath Miller caught a 50-yard pass to set up an early field goal. … Tight end Jermaine Wiggins, tackle Marcus Johnson and center Melvin Fowler each left with second-half ankle injuries for Minnesota.