The Pittsburgh Steelers must have stocked up on shovels this offseason, because there have been few teams who have been as successful in digging themselves holes to climb out of. Aside from the fact that they have five game-winning drives or fourth-quarter comebacks this year, they have also had multiple games where they did storm back, but came up just short.
Last night was another one of the latter games, and the opponent was fitting—the Minnesota Vikings, who have specialized in blowing big leads. They led the Steelers 29-0 midway through the third quarter. And the game came down to the final play, as have a lot of their games—mostly losses—this year.
Asked afterward if he was thinking ‘here we go again’ at any point in the game, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was direct. “The whole time in the second half”, he said. “Yeah”.
But Pittsburgh started turning it around in the final 20 minutes, benefitting from some takeaways to score three touchdowns in a five-minute span, including two by rookie running back Najee Harris—one rushing and one receiving.
After their third touchdown, the Steelers attempted to make it a seven-point game by going for two, but they failed to convert, so that kept it a two-possession game. And then the defense finally broke open again, allowing a 62-yard touchdown pass on which Cameron Sutton, who had a bad game, got burned.
Still, there was time remaining. Ben Roethlisberger found Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown at the 4:19 mark, and this time they hit the two-point conversion. It was an eight-point game, and they got the ball back with about two minutes to play.
The offense was able to get down the field and took a couple of shots into the end zone. Time expired with Roethlisberger threading a beautiful pass to his rookie tight end. He got his mitts on it, but Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith made a great play to knock the ball out before Freiermuth could pull it to his body to secure possession.
And that’s how it ended. It was an exciting second half that saw the Steelers go on a 28-7 run to end the game, but the result is the same: another loss, their third in four weeks and their sixth of the season—not to mention the tie, which has them at .500, 6-6-1, with four games left to play.
“That team that played in the first half for us was pretty darned good”, Zimmer allowed of his unit, “and I think they could probably beat anybody. The team that played in the second half probably could get beat by anybody”.
Unfortunately, that second team did just enough in the final 20 minutes of the game to keep it just out of reach of a desperate Steelers team pushing for a playoff spot in Roethlisberger’s final season. Hopes that are rapidly fading, for those who even want to see it happen in the first place.