After opening the season with an exciting 29-19 win over the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium last week, the Vikings fell to 1-1 in Pittsburgh due to a 26-9 loss to the Steelers. Here are five takeaways from Sunday's loss.
1. Too many penalties gave Pittsburgh too many second chances
Time and again, the Vikings were penalized and many times the penalty negated a big offensive play or extended a Steelers possession. In total, the Vikings were penalized 11 times for 131 yards. Here is a quick sampling of the damage some of the penalties created
-- A holding penalty negated an eight-yard run by Dalvin Cook on 1st down; the Vikings punted three plays later.
-- An encroachment penalty gave the Steelers a 1st down on 4th and 1 and then moments later a 22-yard pass interference penalty put the Steelers on the MIN 38; Pittsburgh scored a touchdown six plays later.
-- A 49-yard pass interference penalty gave the Steelers a 1st down at the MIN 12; the Steelers scored a touchdown three plays later.
-- An illegal formation infraction on a missed Steelers field goal gave kicker Chris Boswell another swing at it and he converted.
-- An offsides penalty gave Ben Roethlisberger a chance at a free play and he connected with Martavis Bryant for 51 yards to the MIN 12; Pittsburgh scored a touchdown three plays later.
-- A holding penalty turned Vikings 2nd and 4 into 2nd a 14; the Vikings punted three plays later.
2. Defense battled admirably, slowed Steelers main threats
The scoreboard shows 26 points allowed and the Vikings left Pittsburgh with a loss. But all things considered, particularly considering how explosive the Steelers offense can be, the Vikings defense battled tough. Roethlisberger didn't collect his third completion until 13:35 to go in the 2nd quarter, but that completion was also his second touchdown of the game. At halftime, Roethlisberger hadn't thrown for 100 yards. Le'Veon Bell finished the game with fewer than 100 all-purpose yards and Antonio Brown was held in check to the tune of five receptions for 62 yards. Also, Pittsburgh was a modest three of 13 (23%) on 3rd downs. This was all done at a time when the Vikings were losing the time of possession battle and the field position battle, which put even more pressure on the Vikings defense to perform well. There are certainly things to clean up – penalties, included – but there were also some positives for the defense.
3. Offense couldn't extend drives
Missing its starting quarterback, the Vikings offense couldn't generate a rhythm and sustain drives. The Vikings reached the red zone only once all game, had eight of their 11 drives (not counting the last drive of the 2nd quarter) generate one or zero 1st downs and generated only 14 1st downs. Backup Case Keenum never settled into a groove, as the Steelers pass rush pestered him much of the game and forced quick throws (plus generated two sacks).
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Steelers at Heinz Field Sunday.
4. Everson Griffen keeps bringing the heat
Everson Griffen has been one of the best defensive ends in the NFL since he became a full-time starter in 2014. He has looked the part this season, including on Sunday in Pittsburgh. Griffen sacked Roethlisberger twice, bringing his two-game total in 2017 to 3.0 sacks. The Vikings defense has played well in both regular season games this season, and a big reason for that is the play of Griffen.
5. Week 1 win even bigger now, with undefeated Tampa Bay lurking in Week 3
As low as the feeling is after a 26-9 loss, the feeling after last week's exhilarating 29-19 win over the Saints was as extreme to the positive. The Vikings sit at 1-1 through two games and they have back-to-back home games on the docket, giving them a solid chance to finish the first quarter of the season at 3-1. The NFL is a one-week-at-a-time business, though, and that means the focus will quickly shift away from the first two games and toward the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that played and won its first game this week after seeing its Week 1 game postponed due to Hurricane Irma. The Bucs looked dynamite in Week 2 while throttling the Chicago Bears 29-7. It will be another steep challenge for the Vikings.