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Vikings Put Band Back Together, Rock for Half & Get Breakup at End

MINNEAPOLIS — It's one thing for a person to meet one of his or her sports heroes.

It's another to meet him in the Steelers backfield while sacking him.

Minnesota's Eric Kendricks was able to do that against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as one of five totaled by the Vikings on the night in a 36-28 victory.

The 232-pound linebacker, who is 29, described the experience of tackling the 39-year-old QB who is listed at 240 pounds.

"Man, it's hard. He's so big," Kendricks said. "Growing up, that was my favorite quarterback. I remember when he played in the Super Bowl, he had a tinted visor and I thought that was tight. It was pretty cool that I got to sack him today. But yeah, he's big. It's kind of difficult.

"It was hard to get my arms around him. I put all my weight into him," Kendricks added. "I remember the last time we played them in 2017, we played them there, I think I had a pass rush and I hit him, like, lower-body-ish, and he just bounced off and threw like a 30-yard pass to Antonio Brown."

Kendricks (returned from a biceps injury) was just one key returnee for Minnesota's defense for the Thursday Night Football game. Linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Patrick Peterson also were back on the field after missing Sunday's game.

Throw in starting defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson in their second game together since Week 4, and it helped explain Minnesota allowing 66 yards and zero points in the first half on the way to building a 23-0 margin.

"I look out there and we've got Pierce and Tomlinson and Barr and Kendricks and Peterson, and that's kind of what I expect [the defense] to look like," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said.

Yes, the band that has rarely been on the field at the same time was back together.

And it was rocking.

The Steelers gained 36 yards on their opening possession, but it ended with a missed field 49-yard field goal.

As for the final five possessions of the first half?

3 plays, 8 yards, punt (included sack by Pierce)

3 plays, -6 yards, punt (included sack by Watts)

3 plays, -4 yards, punt (included sack by Harrison Smith)

3 plays, 9 yards, punt (included sack by Kendricks)

2 plays, 23 yards, end of half

And the first two of the second half?

3 plays, -4 yards, punt (included sack by Sheldon Richardson)

3 plays, 27 yards, interception

"I just think that they had some miscommunication up front," Barr said. "I know that the crowd probably played a factor. For whatever reason, they were ... I think they had max [protection] one time and let Sheldon free, so stuff like that, I don't know that it's so much scheme as it is just the opponent shooting themselves in the foot."

Kendricks added of Minnesota's pressure: "We did a good job communicating. When you don't know where it's coming from as we're all lined up on the line, you know you kind of, you can miscommunicate on offense pretty easily and crowd noise [can be a problem], as well."

Barr said the Vikings had quite a bit of fun building their lead, pretty much uncharted territory for this year's squad.

"I think those are the fun games, really. You know that at any moment, 'This might be my chance.' They're letting guys run free, the quarterback might throw you one," Barr said. "Those are the games you like to be a part of. We haven't really been in those positions too much this season where we shut down a team in the first half. I think it motivates us to continue playing. I don't think it causes us to play down to our — not competition, but to the level of the opponent."

View game action photos between the Vikings and Steelers during the Thursday Night Football matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota settled for field goals on a pair of short-field possessions but still led 29-0 when Pittsburgh began a dramatic rally fueled in part with a pair of touchdowns that followed interceptions by Ahkello Witherspoon.

Pittsburgh rallied with 20 consecutive points to make it 29-20 before Kirk Cousins connected with K.J. Osborn on a 62-yard touchdown with 10:51 to go.

But the game tightened more and ultimately needed a pass breakup by Smith as time expired to seal the deal.