Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley picks up a loose ball and returns it for touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
You expect this kind of scoring burst when the NFL's leading passer and the league's resident Hall of Fame quarterback-in-waiting get together.
Fans jammed Heinz Field like never before to see it and they were treated to a blitzkrieg when the Steelers and Minnesota Vikings fired off three long touchdowns in the final 6 1/2 minutes yesterday. Only it was not Ben Roethlisberger nor Brett Favre who provided the rockets; those came from a Steelers defense too often on the other side in the fourth quarter this season, and another kickoff return by their opponent.
Another Brett -- Keisel -- joined Lamarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox to hijack the Roethlisberger and Favre Show as the Steelers' defense held off the Vikings in a fourth-quarter flurry of big plays, 27-17.
"We don't do shootouts," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "It's been awesome how fast that you forgot that this defense can actually play."
The Steelers won their fourth consecutive game to go 5-2 and issued Minnesota its first loss at 6-1. In doing so, their defense outscored their own offense, not to mention Favre's offense, by scoring two late touchdowns and doing it twice in the same game for the first time in 11 years. Those dramatics followed their huge defensive stand at the 1 in the third quarter.
"Those were kind of fluke deals," groused Vikings coach Brad Childress.
Keisel stripped Favre of the ball as he dropped back to pass from his 8, Woodley recovered and -- James Harrison-like -- ran it back 77 yards with a posse of teammates for a touchdown to put the Steelers ahead by 10.
Next play, Percy Harvin returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown that brought the Vikings within three again with six minutes to go.
Finally, as Favre closed in on a tie or go-ahead touchdown at the Steelers 19, halfback Chester Taylor allowed a short pass to go through his hands and into those of Fox, a linebacker playing because Lawrence Timmons left with an ankle injury.
Fox returned that one 82 yards for a touchdown with one minute left that put the stake through this one, finally, and reminded everyone that, yes, this defense can play.
"We feel like we have a really good defense," said Keisel, who idolized Favre as a kid. "Today was a great test for us to go against a good offensive line, a great quarterback, a great running back. It was a big test for us and we answered the call."
Those scores erased any thoughts that Favre, who completed 34 of 51 for 334 yards, had a good game . He had no touchdown passes and found himself on the wrong end of two defensive touchdowns that decided things.
They are the only two touchdowns by the Steelers' defense this season and they could not have come at a better time. Harvin nearly spoiled the party with his kickoff return that left Steelers coach Mike Tomlin perturbed. A week earlier, Joshua Cribbs ran one back 98 yards on them.
"You put 14 points on the board defensively you can overcome a lot of errors," Tomlin said. "We were far from a perfect team, but we won."
Roethlisberger did not add much to his league-best yardage when he completed 14 of 26 for just 175 yards. But one of those was a 40-yard touchdown to rookie Mike Wallace 24 seconds before halftime to put the Steelers ahead, 10-7. And he did not make the kinds of mistakes that Favre made at the end.
"We had those turnovers, especially when you return them for touchdowns," Favre said, "they made a huge difference."
Both teams squandered scoring chances throughout the game. The Steelers were 0 for 3 in the red zone, managing only Jeff Reed's 27-yard-field goal in the third quarter, his second of the game.
One lost opportunity came when Rashard Mendenhall lost a fumble after gaining 5 yards on first down to Minnesota's 4 early in the fourth quarter and his team ahead by three. It was the final time Mendenhall, who also lost a fumble at the 15 the previous week, saw the field.
Mewedle Moore handled the running chores the rest of the way.
"Just a little careless in that instance," Tomlin described it. "We feel comfortable with the ball in [Moore's] hands."
You would think the Vikings would be more than comfortable with it in Adrian Peterson's hands. He led the NFL with 1,760 yards rushing last season. He came into this game with a 5.1-yard average and still leading the league with 624 yards and seven touchdowns. He scored easily on a 2-yard run in the second quarter.
Yet with first down on the Steelers 1-foot line in the third quarter, trailing by six, the Vikings sent Peterson just once. Fox stopped him for no gain. Instead of cracking Peterson two or even three more times to try to tie it, Favre threw incomplete twice and Ryan Longwell came on to kick an 18-yard field goal.
The Steelers did a nice job on Peterson, holding him to 69 yards on 18 carries to run their streak to 29 without allowing a 100-yard rusher, including postseason. Mendenhall also ran for 69 yards but required only 10 carries to do so and had a good game without the fumble.
"It was a great atmosphere, a playoff atmosphere," Hines Ward said as a record 65,597 jammed into Heinz Field on a perfect October afternoon. "We're stacking wins. In the month of November, we're heading in the right direction."