The Vikings defense successfully held the NFL's Week 1 leading receiver Antonio Brown to five catches for 62 yards and kept him from the end zone, but it wasn't enough to stop the Steelers from notching a 26-9 win in Pittsburgh's home opener.
Xavier Rhodes covered Brown for a majority of Sunday's game.
Rhodes said it "felt good" to match up against his former Norland High School teammate and keep him scoreless individually, but he emphasized that the ultimate goal wasn't attained.
"The game isn't all about me and him [and that] battle. The game is about the team, and we wanted to win," Rhodes said. "Our battle was good, I had fun, but at the end of the day, we still wanted to win."
Rhodes' approach to covering Brown was to "just play ball" and to not overthink the opponent.
"I believe some people are just intimidated by the name," Rhodes said. "I was just going in there and being confident in my game, being confident in what I do."
Added Rhodes: "If he makes a catch, just come back the next play and play my game."
On Pittsburgh's second possession of the game, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass deep left to Brown on second-and-6, and Rhodes was flagged for defensive pass interference. The penalty moved the ball to the spot of the foul, granting the Steelers a first down on the Vikings 38. Six plays later, Roethlisberger found receiver Martavis Bryant, who scored a 27-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh an early lead.
While Rhodes didn't allow the call to disrupt the rest of his game – "Once it happens, it happens, you just have to move on to the next play" – he acknowledged the impact 11 total penalties for 131 yards on the Vikings performance.
Cornerback Trae Waynes also was flagged for pass interference later in the half while covering Bryant. It was an error that moved the chains 49 yards for the Steelers.
"We need to correct the penalties and stop hurting ourselves," Rhodes said. "Go back to playing Vikings football."
In response to Rhodes often being glued to Brown, Roethlisberger utilized other weapons in the passing game.
"[Brown] had some catches on some underneath routes, he had a catch on an out. I think he had five catches today, but it's not all Xavier and this guy," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said after the game. "They're getting help from guys."
The Steelers had help through the air from Bryant, who had only three catches but made them count. He led the team with 91 yards.
Bryant's longest play of the afternoon came after catching a 13-yard pass to convert a third-and-12. On the following play, Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson jumped offsides, essentially giving Roethlisberger a "free play." The Steelers quarterback launched a pass to Bryant, who caught the 51-yard pass in stride at the Minnesota 11.
The Vikings defense held the Steelers from getting into the end zone, but Pittsburgh kicked a field goal that extended its lead to 20-9.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Steelers at Heinz Field Sunday.
Steelers receiver Eli Rogers and tight end Jesse James also contributed 43 and 27 receiving yards, respectively, off of four catches each.
Roethlisberger finished the afternoon 23-of-35 passing for 243 yards, with two scores and a passer rating of 104.8. Sunday also marked the quarterback's 45th straight game with a touchdown pass, which ranks third all-time in the NFL.
When asked following the game if he was happy with his personal performance against Brown, Rhodes responded, "I'm not happy at all with a loss."
"It's not about me and Antonio. It's all about my team," Rhodes reiterated, later adding that he still takes responsibility for the pass plays Pittsburgh was able to complete.
"I [probably could have created] a turnover when they did throw it his way … I probably could have been on top of him to intercept the ball, [and] that probably could have saved a touchdown. Stuff like that, you think about it as a player," Rhodes said. "You could have done more to help your team get a victory."
Rhodes and Trae Waynes each recorded a pass defensed Sunday. While the Vikings defense has yet to create a turnover, Rhodes is confident that the big plays will come.
"We have 14 more games," Rhodes said. "We're going to continue to play our game, and turnovers are going to happen."