MINNEAPOLIS — Moments after Harrison Smith jarred the ball loose on an incompletion to seal a win, he peeled himself off the turf and tossed his helmet a few yards.
The Vikings safety walked around the back of the end zone, in somewhat of a daze, before hugging linebacker Anthony Barr in celebration.
After 60 minutes — 30 of them great and 30 of them iffy — the Vikings had secured a 36-28 win over the Steelers.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer succinctly summed up the emotions to open his postgame press conference.
"Another fun night," Zimmer deadpanned.
This one had a bit of everything as the Vikings moved to 6-7 on the season — a massive lead, a harrowing second half and, yes, a defense that came through in a situation it didn't in the last game.
Minnesota led by eight points as its defense took the field with 2 minutes and 16 seconds remaining in regulation. Pittsburgh needed to drive 96 yards and convert a 2-point conversion to send the game to overtime.
The Steelers got down to the Vikings 12-yard line before Ben Roethlisberger's last-gasp pass for Pat Freiermuth fell to the ground, sending a collective sigh of relief throughout U.S. Bank Stadium.
Minnesota's defense, which allowed a game-winning drive against Detroit last week, had come through when it mattered most. Even if there were a few tense moments along the way.
"We can't make it easy for whatever reason," Barr said. "It should probably never have gotten to that point, but it does feel good to kind of redeem ourselves after last week.
"The first half is something to build on," Barr added. "The second half, we kind want to disregard that and correct the mistakes and get ready for Monday."
Eric Kendricks added: "Just happy we won. It was a battle. Obviously, you'd like to play better in the second half, but it is what it is. We got the win though."
The Vikings led 23-0 at the half behind a dominant offense that racked up 300 yards … and a defense that terrorized Roethlisberger with four sacks. The Steelers offense managed just 66 yards on six first-half drives, three of which were three-and-outs.
But since this is the 2021 Vikings, nothing is ever solidified until the final buzzer.
"We hadn't really been in a game where we'd been up by so much," Zimmer said. "I was still trying to be aggressive with everything, really, that we were doing and we didn't execute as well."
The Vikings shutout ended late in the third quarter on a 75-yard Steelers scoring drive.
That started a span of four Pittsburgh touchdowns in five possessions, but two of those scoring drives were 42 yards or less.
The Vikings threw a pair of second-half interceptions, which highlighted an offensive stretch in which Minnesota scored one touchdown on seven drives in the second half.
Zimmer offered his vantage point from the sideline:
"The second half, we were up by 29 and throw an interception on the first play of [a] drive," Zimmer said. "[We had kicked] two field goals at the start of the second half when we ended up getting the ball down in there.
"Probably could've put them away," Zimmer added. "But anyway, we fought like crazy like we always do."
Was he concerned as the 29-0 advantage dwindled down to single digits?
"Yeah, the whole time," Zimmer said. "The whole time in the second half, yeah."
The Vikings saw a 29-point lead reduced to nine points early in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh went on a 20-0 run in exactly five minutes of game time.
View game action photos between the Vikings and Steelers during the Thursday Night Football matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The teams then traded touchdowns before it was up to the Vikings defense — a group that has allowed a whopping 101 total points in the final two minutes of halves this season — to make one last stand.
Minnesota didn't make it easy on itself, especially with allowing completions of 38 and 37 yards that both would have resulted in pass intereference calls had they not been caught. The Vikings also allowed a 13-yard gain on a second-and-17.
After the game, Zimmer offered up a few quips about another nail biter, as all but one of Minnesota's 13 games this season have been decided by eight points or fewer.
"We kept the TV ratings up, too," Zimmer cracked. "Every week now, we do it."
The Vikings improved to 6-7 and will rest up this weekend after they hope to get some help around the NFC.
Minnesota's next game is at Chicago on Dec. 20 on Monday Night Football. Zimmer knows his team is still searching for a full 60-minute effort entering Week 15.
"You know, that team that played in the first half for us was pretty darn good, and I think could probably beat anybody," Zimmer said. "That team that played in the second half, um, probably could get beat by anybody."