Vikings defeat Steelers on last play after squandering 29-point lead

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook carries the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook carries the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of a 36-28 win Thursday.
(Bruce Kluckhohn / Associated Press)

Dalvin Cook rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns in his faster-than-expected return from a shoulder injury, and the Minnesota Vikings held on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-28 by forcing an incomplete pass in the end zone on the final play Thursday night.

Ben Roethlisberger’s throw to Pat Freiermuth was on target, but Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith smashed into the rookie tight end at just the right moment to dislodge the ball and give the Vikings (6-7) a critical victory after they nearly squandered a 29-0 late-third-quarter lead.

Smith ripped his helmet off after the game was finally secured, revealing an expression of exhaustion, hardly excitement. All but one of Minnesota’s games this year have been decided by eight points or less, including four losses by three points or fewer.


“Never say ‘over’ with this team,” said coach Mike Zimmer, who watched the Vikings lose 29-27 last week at previously winless Detroit on a last-play touchdown pass.

The Steelers had fared much better in these close finishes this season, but they weren’t trying to erase 29-point deficits in those other situations, either.

The Rams face a tough test against the NFC West-leading Cardinals and the Las Vegas Raiders look to overcome the odds against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Dec. 9, 2021

“We’re running out of time,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t look at moral victories.”

Just as vital as all the turf he tore up on the ground was the 17-yard catch Cook made on a seam route on third-and-9 from the Minnesota 26 with 2:38 left. That forced the Steelers to use all their timeouts, leaving Roethlisberger 96 yards and 2:16 to go after Jordan Berry pinned a punt deep against his former team.

Roethlisberger hit Chase Claypool for 48 yards while Bashaud Breeland was committing pass interference to reach midfield. Claypool pulled in a fourth-and-1 slant to reach the Minnesota 34 but cost the Steelers a handful of seconds by celebrating the first down rather than immediately tossing the ball to the referee.


Diontae Johnson set up the last play from the 12 by taking a crossing route 12 yards out of bounds, but the Steelers (6-6-1), who failed on a 2-point conversion try earlier in the fourth quarter, wound up just short this time. Last week, they hung on to beat Baltimore 20-19 by denying a 2-point try with 12 seconds remaining.

Coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t all that impressed by the comeback.

Linebackers Uchenna Nwosu, Drue Tranquill and Kyzir White, and safety Nassir Adderley have made great strides in their first season under Chargers coach Brandon Staley.

Dec. 9, 2021

“We were JV again tonight, and I’m talking up front on both sides,” Tomlin said.

Star outside linebacker and NFL sack leader T.J. Watt injured his groin early in the second quarter and did not return. The Vikings had a 300-66 advantage in total yards in the first half.

Roethlisberger, who was sacked five times, threw touchdown passes to Najee Harris, James Washington and Freiermuth in the second half. Harris ran for a score, too, as the Steelers recovered from their abysmal start.

Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted Kirk Cousins twice after halftime to fuel the rally. With Adam Thielen sidelined by an ankle injury, Minnesota’s passing attack was out of sync.

Cousins went 14 for 31 for 216 yards, hitting Justin Jefferson for a first-quarter touchdown and K.J. Osborn for a 62-yard score early in the fourth quarter that made it 36-20.