EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — A good night’s sleep did nothing to quell the disappointment from the Minnesota Vikings’ first loss of the season.
The way they see it, the game at Pittsburgh on Sunday was there for the taking and they gave it away in a 27-17 defeat.
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The Vikings out-gained Pittsburgh by 127 yards, held the ball for nearly 37 minutes and forced the Steelers into 4-for-12 on third downs. Yet Minnesota still found a way to lose the game thanks to 11 penalties, two turnovers in the red zone that went for touchdowns and an inability to put the ball in the end zone from 1 yard out in the third quarter.
“We left a lot of plays out there. We had many opportunities to win,” cornerback Karl Paymah said. “It’s just sickening, so many plays. I can’t really dwell on it. We’ve just got to learn from it and just keep pushing.”
They will have to be much sharper on both sides of the ball this week when Brett Favre makes his highly anticipated return to Lambeau Field to face the Packers.
The Vikings (6-1) were in position to beat the Steelers twice in the fourth quarter, but a tripping call on Jeff Dugan nullified Favre’s TD pass to Sidney Rice that would have given them the lead. On the next play, Brett Keisel stripped Favre and LaMarr Woodley returned it 77 yards for a score.
Coach Brad Childress said he spoke to league officials about the tripping call on Monday and there “absolutely was not” anything he would ask Dugan to do differently on the play.
“And I know there’s 32 other clubs in the league that coach the same way, to block the end of the line of scrimmage,” Childress said. “I thought it was a job well done.”
After Percy Harvin’s kick return for a touchdown, the Vikings again drove inside the Pittsburgh 20. But Favre’s screen pass slipped through Chester Taylor’s fingers and fell right into linebacker Keyaron Fox’s lap. He returned the interception 82 yards for a score to put the game away.
The Vikings racked up 78 yards on those 11 penalties after averaging just 4.5 penalties a game in their previous six. Five of the flags on Sunday were thrown for false starts, including two against tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
“Those are things that obviously you need to clean up, particularly when you go into a hostile environment,” Childress said. “You’ve got to be able to handle those and yards are hard to come by, particularly with the lost-yardage type of things.”
All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson was whistled for a false start, his first penalty in 27 games. Right guard Anthony Herrera also got one, something he attributed to excitement in the heat of the moment.
“We were still able to move the ball. I think Brett did pretty good,” Herrera said. “We had 400 yards total offense against Pittsburgh Steelers. Any day you have that, with how many false starts you have or whatever, that’s pretty good.”
With Adrian Peterson contained by the aggressive Steelers defense, Favre threw the ball 51 times for 334 yards.
“You always like to be able to exert your will and run it all the time,” Childress said. “Sometimes logic dictates that you don’t and you need to spread people out a little bit more and do some other things. Perfect world, you don’t want 51 throws, for us, the way we play football.”
When Favre returns to Green Bay this week to face his former team, he will be seeing a Packers defense that is starting to come together under new coordinator Dom Capers and his 3-4 scheme. The Packers rank third in the NFL in total defense and will be ramped up after Favre torched them for three touchdowns in a victory at the Metrodome on Oct. 5.
“They’re still gaining confidence in their system,” Herrera said. “That’s all. But they’re going to be really good at it.”