Vikings 17, Steelers 10
Roethlisberger, a surprise starter because of his right thumb injury, threw for a touchdown on the Steelers’ opening drive while running a version of the no-huddle. After that, the offense basically shut down for the rest of the game.
Just as in a 21-13 loss to Arizona last weekend, the Steelers’ execution was spotty, with mistakes, incorrect pass routes and turnovers. They had a fumble and an interception in their final two possessions of the first half.
“It was their first game back after winning the Super Bowl and, after that first drive, we just said we had to weather the storm,” said cornerback Ronyell Whitaker, who had a sack and a forced fumble. “We knew it would be a hostile crowd, but we wanted to go out and see how we stand against the Super Bowl champions.”
So far, the Steelers are playing much like they were a year ago, when their starters didn’t score a touchdown on offense in the preseason before going on to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 26 years. So much for the importance of exhibition play; Roethlisberger had thrown only one other preseason TD pass in three years before doing so Saturday.
“I think we got in a fast tempo while we were out there, but we didn’t run the ball much,” Steelers fullback Dan Kreider said. “We didn’t mix the run and the pass like we usually do most games because we weren’t out there that long.”
Roethlisberger was listed as questionable after spraining a right thumb ligament in practice Wednesday. But he got the offense into the end zone so quickly, throwing a 16-yard scoring pass to Cedrick Wilson with less than 5 minutes gone, he was pulled after only six plays.
“The thumb feels pretty good,” Roethlisberger said. “It was one of those things where we said let’s go out there and warm up and see how we feel. It felt good out there.”
In two games, Roethlisberger is 6-of-8 for 59 yards and has shown no effects of the June 12 motorcycle accident that left him with a broken jaw, nose and a concussion, among other injuries.
“They came out with a sort of a no-huddle trying to get us rattled,” Vikings linebacker Napoleon Harris said. “We came out kind of flat defensively, but once we settled down and got into the speed of the game, we got pressure on the quarterback.”
Both starting quarterbacks had no problems moving their offenses, with Johnson going 9-of-11 for 71 yards while throwing a 12-yard scoring pass to tight end Jermaine Wiggins on Minnesota’s first possession after the Steelers’ touchdown.
But it was Jackson, the second-round draft pick from Alabama State, who got the Vikings offense moving again in limited playing time—just as he did during a relatively brief but effective appearance during a 16-13 loss Monday to Oakland.
He didn’t have to scramble for yardage as he did while running for 36 yards against the Raiders, but was more accurate as a thrower by completing 9 of 11 passes for 80 yards. His 6-yard touchdown pass to Jason Carter early in the third quarter put the Vikings up 17-7 and finished off a 56-yard drive in which the rookie was 5-of-5 for 54 yards. He was 7-of-13 overall for 60 yards against the Raiders.
“This is what have to do as a team every week,” wide receiver Troy Williamson said. “We’ve got two good quarterbacks and one who’s still learning what to do.”
The big play on the Jackson-led drive was a 26-yard completion over the middle to Ryan Hoag on a second-and-17 play after Jackson was sacked on first down. Jackson played much better than Mike McMahon, who was expected to be Johnson’s backup but was pulled after completing only 1 of 7 passes for 42 yards and throwing an interception.
Steelers first-round draft pick Santonio Holmes also stood out, though mostly for the wrong reasons. After Holmes apparently ran the wrong pass route on a Batch-thrown interception after the Steelers had driven to the Vikings’ 27 in the second quarter, players and coaches alike—led by Roethlisberger— gathered around to show him what he did wrong.
“We weren’t on the same page and you saw the end result,” Batch said. “We played in spurts on offense and defense and we’ve got to put it all together.”
Later, Holmes was certain he made a catch along the Steelers sideline, but was ruled to be juggling the ball. Holmes seemed surprised at the call, and coach Bill Cowher challenged it, but it was upheld.
Losing their first two preseason games is nothing new for the Steelers, who also did it in 2002 and 2003.