3 Takeaways from Vikings' Week 14 Win
The Minnesota Vikings almost invented a new way to lose on Thursday night.
The Vikings came close to blowing a 29-point lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
A stalled-out offense and a stunned defense put Minnesota in the precarious situation it faced until the final play of the game.
Harrison Smith came up with a massive pass breakup on a throw from Ben Roethlisberger to Pat Freiermuth to keep the Steelers from having a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion.
Smith's game-saving play was one of a few notable second-half moments among a string of errors from the NFC North side, who blew a lead against the Detroit Lions four days prior.
Minnesota conceded 28 points in 13 minutes to allow Pittsburgh to even have a chance of completing its comeback.
The poor second half overshadowed how dominant the Vikings looked in the first two quarters behind Dalvin Cook, who produced the first 200-yard rushing game in the NFL this season.
Harrison Smith Saved Vikings from Total Humiliation
Harrison Smith might have made the most important play of the Vikings' season.
The veteran safety knocked the ball out of Pat Freiermuth's hands in the end zone to prevent the Steelers from getting within two points of Minnesota.
If the Steelers completed that pass and the two-point conversion that followed, the Vikings would have been on the brink of a historic defeat.
According to NBC Sports' Warren Sharp, teams that led by 23 or more points at halftime were 90-0 dating back to 2014.
Smith helped the Vikings avoid the humiliation of being the first team to lose in a situation like that in a while, and it kept the team in the thick of the NFC wild-card race.
Minnesota moved up to 6-7 and is now in eighth place in the NFC wild-card race with a half-game between it and the two teams above it.
Now that the hard part is over, the Vikings have to root for the Dallas Cowboys to beat the Washington Football Team and the Cincinnati Bengals to defeat the San Francisco 49ers to put all three wild-card contenders at 6-7 going into Week 15.
Dalvin Cook Showed No Lingering Affects from Shoulder Injury
Dalvin Cook did not look like he was running with a shoulder harness on.
Cook ran through the Steelers defense with ease to total 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Minnesota's top running back did whatever he wanted in the first half, as he found the end zone on two occasions. At one point, Cook had seven carries for 117 yards and a score.
Cook made a few key runs in the second half to set up a pair of Greg Joseph field goals. He had an eight-yard run on Minnesota's first drive of the third quarter, and his 15-yard rush on the second series put the Vikings inside the 10-yard line.
Minnesota gave Cook nine handoffs in the fourth quarter, but it went away from him in a few crucial moments.
Kirk Cousins had two incomplete passes on third down that led to punts, and he was intercepted once on third down in the fourth quarter.
If the Vikings handed the ball off to Cook or Alexander Mattison in any of those situations, they could have run more clock and avoided some of the late-game stress.
Cook's performance on the handoffs he received was a promising sign for the Vikings moving forward if they have to rely on him more with Adam Thielen out injured.
Vikings Need to Clean Up Late-Game Errors
The Vikings need to clean up their late-game errors if they want to be competitive in a playoff game if they qualify for the postseason.
Minnesota let the Steelers get back into the game too easily. The Steelers did whatever they wanted through the air for most of the second half.
Ben Roethlisberger was barely upright in the first two quarters. The visitors had no answers for what the Vikings threw at them, and it looked like Minnesota was on the path to an easy victory.
Minnesota's secondary gave up three passing touchdowns. The scoring connections between Roethlisberger and Najee Harris and Freiermuth were easy to earn. Both players sprinted with ease into the corner of the end zone.
James Washington's 30-yard touchdown grab was harder to attain, but he still beat out a few defensive backs to the ball.
Cousins' errors in the passing game compounded the second-half issues. Both of his interceptions led to Pittsburgh touchdowns.
Minnesota has an extra few days to go over its mistakes and clean them up before its Week 15 Monday night with the Chicago Bears.
If they do not stumble like that again, the Vikings have the potential to make the playoffs and maybe even spring an upset with the offensive talent it possesses.