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Vikings at Steelers: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at five of the most important plays that led to the Vikings’ road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Pittsburgh Steelers
Wait, that isn’t Sam...
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

And we’re only two weeks into the 2017 season.

After firing on all cylinders in a season-opening Monday Night Football home win over the New Orleans Saints, Vikings fans had plenty of reasons to be enthusiastic about the season’s prospects. The defense held a powerful attack in check. Dalvin Cook looked like the real deal. The offensive line was actually passable. And Sam Bradford was slinging the ball all over the field with pinpoint accuracy.

One week later, the sky might not be falling yet, but it sure seems a lot lower than it did seven days ago.

Bradford was a late scratch from the lineup due to knee soreness, even though there wasn’t a definitive play from Week 1 where he might have hurt it, because of course, this is the Minnesota Vikings, so why wouldn’t our quarterback have the game of his life and then miss the next game?

Beating a team like the Steelers on the road on a short week with your backup quarterback is very hard. Beating them with 11 penalties for 131 yards, including a few crucial drive-extending mistakes, is impossible. As we did last week, we’re taking a look at five of the most impactful plays from Sunday’s Steel City sadness.

Play 1: Steelers ball, 4th & 1 on the Pittsburgh 31. First quarter, 7:13 remaining. (No Huddle) PENALTY on MIN-B.Robison, Encroachment, 5 yards, enforced at PIT 31 - No Play

Our first play wasn’t technically a play at all, but it was a boneheaded blunder that foreshadowed how the Vikings would beat themselves throughout the day. After Antonio Brown was stopped just short of the sticks on third down, Ben Roethlisberger hurried his troops to the line to see if he could catch the Vikings off guard for a quick snap. When that didn’t work, Roethlisberger went for a hard count. But there was no way the veteran Vikings defensive line would jump offside in this situation. I mean, it was the first quarter and the Steelers were well in their own territory. Not even Mike Tomlin would take that big of a risk this early in the game.


Brian Robison inexplicably took the bait, jumping offside and extending the Steelers’ drive. Instead of the Vikings defense getting two straight three-and-outs to start the game, Pittsburgh found the end zone seven plays later and never looked back.

Play 2: Steelers ball, 2nd & 22 on the Pittsburgh 39. Second quarter, 15:00 remaining. (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete deep middle to M.Bryant. PENALTY on MIN-T.Waynes, Defensive Pass Interference, 49 yards, enforced at PIT 39 - No Play

Hey look, another penalty! After a sack by Everson Griffen put Pittsburgh in second and long to start the second quarter, the Steelers employed a strategy they would use with great effectiveness throughout the day: chuck it deep and hope to get bailed out.

On this occasion, Trae Waynes was more than happy to oblige by jumping on Martavis Bryant’s back before the ball arrived. Even though Waynes—who is supposedly known for his straight-line speed and downfield coverage—was giving an eight-yard cushion at the line of scrimmage, Bryant still managed to get a step on him to cause the 49-yard penalty. Three plays later, the Steelers scored again to take a 14-0 lead.

Play 3: Steelers ball, 4th & 7 on the Minnesota 33. Third quarter, 12:24 remaining. (Field Goal formation) C.Boswell 51 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Left, Center-K.Canaday, Holder-J.Berry. PENALTY on MIN-N.Easton, Illegal Formation, 5 yards, enforced at MIN 33 - No Play.

Hey look, yet another Vikings penalty! After the worst fake punt attempt this side of whatever the Colts tried to pull off back in 2015, the Steelers took over in field goal range looking to add to their 14-3 lead. The Vikings defense held firm after being put in a bad position, holding Le’Veon Bell to three yards on three touches. On comes Chris Boswell for a 51-yard field goal attempt...

But of course, he gets another chance. During the broadcast, Ronde Barber claimed it was because the Vikings had too many players lined up on one side of the center. Here’s what it looked like before the snap:

Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3, Item 2 of the official NFL Rulebook states this about the defensive team on field goals:

No more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap.

If you look at the photo, only six players are lined up on the line of scrimmage to the center’s right. Eric Kendricks is clearly off the line by more than a yard. What the referees actually called was that the Vikings had a player lined up over the center. The broadcast mics didn’t pick that part up, but you could hear Pete Morelli say it over the stadium speakers. From the same Item in the NFL Rulebook:

A Team B player, who is within one yard of the line of scrimmage, must have his entire body outside the snapper’s shoulder pads at the snap.

The Vikings appear to be complying with that rule, but one could theoretically make a paltry argument that the player in front of Kendricks was ever-so-slightly “over” the center on the attempt. To show you how ticky-tack of a call that was, here’s how the Vikings lined up on the second attempt, which of course Boswell made:

It looks nearly identical. Even if Morelli’s crew was technically right with making this call, it was a huge decision because it gave the Steelers three points at a crucial juncture of the game. One can understand why Mike Zimmer and Mike Priefer reacted the way they did to such a petty interpretation of the rules.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 on the Pittsburgh 26. Third quarter, 10:06 remaining. (No Huddle, Shotgun) D.Cook right tackle for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Official reviewed the runner broke the plane ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (No Huddle, Shotgun) D.Cook right tackle to PIT 1 for 25 yards (S.Davis).

It wasn’t entirely bad yesterday. The Vikings still have a really good running back.

The offensive line didn’t do Dalvin Cook many favors on Sunday, but they came together for a nice play that led to the Vikings only touchdown of the day. This play was originally ruled a touchdown, but Cook was ruled down at the 1 and the Vikings had to settle for C.J. Ham’s first career touchdown on the next play. Even after Kai Forbath’s missed extra point (which is another subject entirely), the touchdown made it a one-score game and provided a slight glimmer of hope to Vikings fans early in the second half.

But in true Vikings fashion, that hope was short-lived.

Play 5: Steelers ball, 1st & 10 on the Pittsburgh 38. Third quarter, 7:01 remaining. (No Huddle, Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass deep left to M.Bryant to MIN 11 for 51 yards (T.Waynes). Penalty on MIN-T.Johnson, Defensive Offside, declined.

I hate to pick on Waynes like this. But if Roethlisberger and Bryant can do it, so can I.

Once again, the Vikings were called for a silly penalty. (This time it was Tom Johnson jumping offside, giving Pittsburgh a free play.)

Once again, Waynes was giving Bryant a huge cushion at the line of scrimmage.

Once again, Bryant got past Waynes anyway.

And once again, the Steelers added points just a few plays later.

The ensuing field goal that came from this play more or less put the game out of reach. With how the Vikings offense was sputtering, an 11-point lead felt more like a 28-point lead. Pittsburgh added two more field goals in the fourth quarter and that was that.

Again, it’s hard to whittle down everything into just five plays, but those felt the most impactful at first glance. Which play do you think was the most impactful? Let us know in the poll. Think we missed one or two? Post your thoughts in the comments below.


What was the most important play of the Vikings’ loss to the Steelers?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Robison jumping offside
    (450 votes)
  • 29%
    Waynes pass interference
    (238 votes)
  • 4%
    Penalty on missed field goal
    (40 votes)
  • 1%
    Cook’s near-TD
    (11 votes)
  • 6%
    Bryant’s 51-yard catch
    (57 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below)
    (23 votes)
819 votes total Vote Now