Vikings almost blow 29-0 lead but hang on, barely, to win over the Steelers

·4 min read

Minnesota Vikings fans can't have an easy night.

The Vikings led 29-0 in the third quarter on Thursday. They were hammering the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Minnesota has never met a win it didn't try to blow, and somehow it nearly blew a 29-point lead to the Steelers.

Luckily, the Vikings avoided that ignominy. They held off a late Steelers drive and their 29-0 lead turned into a tense 36-28 win. The Steelers had a shot to tie on the final play and tight end Pat Freiermuth had a potential touchdown in his hands, but safety Harrison Smith made a clutch play to knock it out. It was a big win in terms of the NFC wild-card race, but Vikings fans probably didn't have enough energy left to celebrate.

The largest comeback win in regular-season history happened in 1980, when the San Francisco 49ers rallied to beat the New Orleans Saints after being down by 28. If any team is going to break that record it's the 2021 Vikings. At least it didn't happen Thursday night.

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Dalvin Cook finished with 205 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Steelers have a horrid first half

The Steelers started the game like they thought it was actually supposed to kick off on Friday night.

When Dalvin Cook ran through yet another enormous hole for his second touchdown of the night, the Vikings led 23-0. The game hadn't even reached the two-minute warning of the first half.

At that moment, the Steelers were being outgained 291-34. They had no answers. Cook ran through them like they weren't there and Justin Jefferson had little trouble finding yards either, even though the Steelers didn't have to worry about injured Adam Thielen. The holes were so big, Minnesota averaged an astonishing 8.2 yards per carry before contact in the first half, according to ESPN Stats and Info. That's not Steelers football.

Cook had 153 yards by halftime, the most ever for a Vikings back in the first half. It was the second time in three weeks an opposing running back had 100 yards in the first half (Joe Mixon also did it). That had not happened once in Mike Tomlin's first 234 games as Steelers coach, according to Fox. The Steelers seemed to leave it all on the field last week against Baltimore. They were impossibly bad in the first half.

But like the loss to the Los Angeles Chargers a few weeks ago, the Steelers didn't give up. And the Vikings are the Vikings.

Steelers have a great comeback

Pittsburgh was down 29-0 in the third quarter. When Najee Harris scored a touchdown late in the third quarter, it seemed like a consolation and a little bump to those fantasy players who have Harris. Then Cousins threw an interception and the Steelers scored again. Then the Vikings punted and the Steelers scored again. While the Steelers didn't get the two-point conversion — going for two trailing 29-20 brought about another round of debates between new school and old school thinking — they were suddenly back in the game with about 12 minutes to go.

Then Kirk Cousins hit his first big play in a long time. He threw deep to K.J. Osborn, who grabbed it and strolled in for a 62-yard touchdown. The Steelers followed that up by going three-and-out, after a delay of game on fourth down changed Mike Tomlin's mind and he punted.

But it can't be easy with the Vikings. Cousins threw another interception and Freiermuth scored a touchdown. The Steelers got the two-point conversion that time and they trailed 36-28.

It seemed the Vikings put the Steelers away when Cousins hit Cook for a 17-yard gain on third-and-9. But again, absolutely nothing is easy for the Vikings. The Steelers got a stop. A pass interference flag on Minkah Fitzpatrick was picked up on a third-down incompletion and the Vikings had to punt. Fortunately, they got a great punt that was downed at the 4-yard line.

The Steelers put together a nice drive. A long pass interference call helped them get inside Vikings territory. Diontae Johnson got out of bounds after a missed tackle, stopping the clock with three seconds left and the Steelers were at the 12-yard line. But a pass to Freiermuth in the end zone on the last play was knocked away on Smith's hit and the Vikings held on. It was a fantastic pass by Ben Roethlisberger. Freiermuth probably should have held on. But give Smith credit for making a great play.

Hopefully Vikings fans called it a night at 29-0 and went to bed. They would have saved themselves a lot of stress during a frenetic comeback by Pittsburgh.