The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH–Ben Roethlisberger took a knee in prayer, then sprinted to mid-field holding the flag honouring the man who helped guide the Pittsburgh Steelers from irrelevance into a dynasty.
Five months after longtime president and chairman Dan Rooney’s death, the Steelers won a game like so many during his tenure.
Their 26-9 victory over short-handed Minnesota during an emotionally draining home-opener yesterday afternoon was an awful lot like Rooney himself.
Workmanlike. Pragmatic. Decidedly unflashy. Relentlessly effective.
Afterwards, the players presented the game ball to current team president Art Rooney II, Dan’s son, who promised it would find its way to his mother, Patricia.
“It was special,” Roethlisberger said.
Wearing a patch featuring a black shamrock with the initials “DMR” on their jerseys, the Steelers (2-0) used a pair of first-half touchdown passes by Roethlisberger to take control.
Its rapidly-improving defence, meanwhile, kept Vikings’ backup quarterback Case Keenum in check to improve to 10-1 in home-openers under head coach Mike Tomlin.
The Steelers managed only 335 yards and converted only 3-of-13 third downs–hardly the kind of firepower expected out of its star-laden offence.
But Pittsburgh is unbeaten anyway. The style will come. For now, the substance of their play is fine.
“We’re just winning football games,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re 2-0.
“We did what we had to do; we won the football game.”
Roethlisberger finished 24-of-35 for 243 yards and the two scores–a 27-yard strike to Martavis Bryant in the first quarter and a four-yard flip to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second.
Bryant caught three passes for 90 yards and drew a 51-yard pass interference penalty that set up Smith-Schuster’s first NFL touchdown that put the Steelers up 14-0.
Bryant feigned rolling dice during his end zone celebration–his first touchdown since returning from a year-long drug suspension.
“I came a long way,” he noted. “My whole year I put a lot of work in.
“I’m just focused on getting better as a team and just going out and playing hard on Sunday.”
Minnesota (1-1) played without quarterback Sam Bradford, who sat out with a left-knee injury.
Keenum struggled to get anything going in Bradford’s absence, throwing for just 167 yards on 20-of-35 passing.
Vikings’ rookie Dalvin Cook ran for 64 yards but Minnesota failed to generate any sustained momentum.
Some of the Steelers didn’t even realize it was Keenum behind centre until the game was underway.
It didn’t occur to linebacker Bud Dupree until he found himself chasing after Keenum on Minnesota’s second possession.
The offence that hummed at home with Bradford at the controls operated in only fits and starts yesterday, thanks in large part to 11 penalties for 131 yards.
“I thought we showed some good things but obviously didn’t get off to a great start and kind of shot ourselves in foot quite a few times,” Keenum said.
Bradford was spectacular against the New Orleans Saints but was slowed all week with an achy left knee.
Enter Keenum, who went 9-15 as a starter with Houston and the L.A. Rams before signing on with Minnesota.
The Vikings’ offensive line had trouble giving Keenum time in the pocket, and the results often were checkdowns that went nowhere.
Minnesota’s only touchdown came on a one-yard plunge by fullback C.J. Ham that drew the Vikings within 17-9 early in the third quarter.
Kai Forbath missed the extra point and Pittsburgh responded with a 10-play, 74-yard drive that ended with the second of Chris Boswell’s four field goals with 4:59 left in the third.
The Vikings never threatened again.
Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell finished with 89 total yards on 30 touches (27 rushes, three receptions) in his second game since ending a summer-long sabbatical due to a contract dispute.
Bell’s longest play was an 11-yard run, though Minnesota’s front seven did an excellent job of clogging rush lanes and making sure Bell didn’t get loose in the passing game.
“I’m due for an explosion play,” Bell said. “It hasn’t happened yet.
“I think I had almost three today but those guys, they made a couple tackles on a screen or a run where I almost broke out.”
Elsewhere in the NFL, Atlanta beat Green Bay 34-23, Denver dumped Dallas 42-17, Tampa Bay pounded Chicago 29-7, New England downed New Orleans 36-20, Carolina shaded Buffalo 9-3, Tennessee bombed Jacksonville 37-16, and Arizona edged Indianapolis 16-13 (OT).
Kansas City beat Philadelphia 27-20, Oakland routed the N.Y. Jets 45-20, Miami nipped the L.A. Chargers 19-17, Seattle shaded San Francisco 12-9, Washington downed the L.A. Rams 27-20, and Baltimore upended Cleveland 24-10.