PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes, Le’Veon Bell ran for 87 yards and the Pittsburgh Steelers kept the Minnesota Vikings in check during a 26-9 victory on Sunday.
Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant for a 27-yard score in the first quarter and flipped a shovel pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster that the rookie turned into a 4-yard score. Roethlisberger finished 23 of 35 for 243 yards and the two scores as the Steelers (2-0) improved to 10-1 in home openers under Mike Tomlin.
Minnesota (1-1) played without quarterback Sam Bradford, who sat out with a left-knee injury. Case 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 real momentum against Pittsburgh’s rejuvenated defense.
Pittsburgh’s “Killer B” offense didn’t exactly light it up in Cleveland in a methodical Week 1 victory. Head coach Mike Tomlin pointed to marked improvement in Week 2 and while the fireworks most expected did not materialize, Bryant and Bell both took significant steps forward.
Bryant caught three passes for 90 yards, including his first touchdown in 20 months and also drew a pass interference penalty that set up Smith-Schuster’s score. Both Steeler wide receivers took advantage of the NFL’s relaxed celebration rules, imitating rolling dice while being surrounded by teammates.
Bell was limited to just 13 touches against the Browns, something Tomlin attributed more to spotty play around Bell rather than his extended sabbatical following an offseason contract impasse. The workload was significantly heavier in Bell’s second week back. He ran the ball 27 times and added three receptions for two yards. While his longest play was only an 11-yard run, he helped the Steelers run the clock in the second half to protect their sizeable lead.
Last week, Minnesota’s offense looked efficient with Bradford running things in an easy opening victory over New Orleans. Bradford tweaked his left knee during the game.
Enter Keenum, who went 9-15 as a starter with Houston and the Rams before signing on with Minnesota. The Vikings offensive line had trouble giving Keenum time in the pocket, and the results were often checkdowns that went nowhere.
Minnesota’s only touchdown came on a 1-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.
A week after racking up 13 penalties in Cleveland, the Steelers weren’t much cleaner against the Vikings, though Minnesota wasn’t any better. The Steelers drew 10 flags for 72 yards while the Vikings were penalized 11 times for 131 yards, including a pair of pass interference calls in the first half that set up Roethlisberger touchdown passes.
Steelers rookie linebacker T.J. Watt left in the second quarter with a groin injury and did not return. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva exited in the third quarter with “heat-related issues” but returned in the fourth. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert sat out most of the fourth quarter with cramps.
Vikings: Host Tampa Bay next Sunday.
Steelers: Travel to Chicago to face the winless Bears.