In a matter of minutes, the Vikings were the probable victors, then were suddenly heading toward a shocking defeat, then were threatening to retake the lead, and then had been knocked out of Pittsburgh in a stunning manner.
Dramatic? Well, that's what Vikings fans call "Sunday."
Luck had been on the Vikings' side in previous close games, but today, it was a different story. A poorly officiated game, combined with far too many unforced errors and a tough, tough Steelers defense teamed up to hand the Vikings their first loss of the season. It was a game the Vikings could have won, but there were simply too many things working against them. A disappointment indeed, but they still hung extremely tough. Give 'em credit for that.
There were two big missed opportunities for the Vikings -- an absurd tripping penalty on Jeff Dugan that wiped away a Sidney Rice touchdown, and the pass that went through Chester Taylor's hands and sealed the deal for the Steelers. Both drives could have resulted in Viking touchdowns, and yet each resulted in seven for the Steelers.
Certainly, those two plays are the most obvious reasons for the defeat, but keep in mind some other factors. We saw glimpses of the old, undisciplined Vikings today -- 11 penalties for 78 yards. Several of those penalties were garbage calls, but the fact remains that you won't win too many games on the road with so many unforced errors.
We should also recall the final Steelers drive of the first half, in which Big Ben sliced and diced a defense that was only rushing four while leaving a wide gap between the linebackers and safeties. The Vikings could have entered the locker room with a 7-3 lead, but instead Pittsburgh led 10-7. Leslie Frazier is getting bizarrely soft in these situations.
Other than that, though, the defense basically played well enough to win -- despite the absence of Antoine Winfield. It was the offense that self-destructed through penalties, it was the offense that couldn't get the running game established, and it was the offense that turned the ball over twice down the stretch, putting 14 points on the board for the Steelers. Not even Percy Harvin's fourth quarter magnificence could make up for the mistakes.
It's also worth noting a third quarter drive by the Vikings that stalled at the one yardline and resulted in a Ryan Longwell field goal. An offsides penalty gave them a first down at the one, and yet only one of the ensuing three plays went to Adrian Peterson. Talk about a blatant misuse of a great running back.
Those were the underlying causes of the loss, but obviously, the two big turnovers in the fourth quarter are the most painful reasons the Vikings are leaving Pittsburgh with their first loss of the season. After all the penalties that had crippled the Vikes in the second half, it's not surprising that two more gaffes did them in.
It stings that a gutsy defensive effort was wasted, and it stings that numerous opportunities to win this one also went to waste. But it's important to keep perspective. Disappointing as this game is, it's 1/16 of the season.