PITTSBURGH, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Running back Chris Fuamatu-Maafala, who had carried just 10 times this season, stepped in for the injured Jerome Bettis Sunday and dominated in the fourth quarter to help the Pittsburgh Steelers hang on for a 21-16 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
With the Vikings ranking 23rd in the league against the run, it figured to be a busy afternoon for Bettis. But the Pittsburgh workhorse went down with a strained hip midway through the third quarter and never returned.
As Minnesota rallied behind backup quarterback Todd Bouman, Fuamatu-Maafala had the game's biggest play, a 46-yard run on third and 10 with 90 second to play. He finished with 74 yards on 12 carries.
Bettis had 81 yards on 19 attempts and surpassed 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season and eighth time in his career.
Pittsburgh improved to 9-2 and remained 1 1/2 games ahead of the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Central.
"I was looking to get back in there," Bettis said. "Coach told me it was too cold and I hadn't played in a quarter and a half. He said I wasn't going to go in, I lost that battle."
"We certainly made it interesting at the end," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who recorded his 100th career win. "The bottom line is it's a win and that's the most important thing. Anybody that has been involved in the National Football League can attest to this -- the game is never over. We certainly brought that to another level today."
Minnesota, which fell to 4-7, played nearly the entire fourth quarter without starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who was removed when the game was 21-3. Culpepper entered the game with a sore left knee and was 12 of 17 for 140 yards before being lifted.
"Daunte went about as much as he could go," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "Like most knees, the longer you go the more stiff it becomes."
"It was OK at the beginning," Culpepper said. "The second half when I came out, it had gotten stiff at halftime. I couldn't put pressure on it like I wanted to. I hurried some throws, but I thought I threw with velocity. That's how it goes when you're hurt."
Moss finished with 144 yards on eight catches.
Pittsburgh signal-caller Kordell Stewart was 13 of 19 for 157 yards and improved to 13-3 in his last 16 starts.
Stewart's lone interception of the afternoon set up the game's first score. Safety Robert Griffith picked off Stewart at the 36 and, nine plays later, longtime Steeler Gary Anderson converted a 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 88 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Pittsburgh took the ensuing kickoff and moved 68 yards in 10 plays, culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by Bettis. But Amos Zereoue had a clutch run on a third-down play and Stewart found Plaxico Burress for 11 yards on third and four at midfield.
Culpepper moved the Vikings on their next possession, but the drive stalled at the Steelers' 19 and Anderson missed his second field goal in 12 attempts this season.
Pittsburgh kicker Kris Brown returned the favor with a 40-yard miss and the Steelers were forced to settle for a 7-3 lead at the half.
Bettis began to pound away in the second half, carrying six times on Pittsburgh's opening possession of the third quarter. But the Steelers' second touchdown of the game was scored by Troy Edwards, who broke around right end for 12 yards.
Edwards then produced another big play, causing a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. The Steelers moved down the field in 10 plays with Zereoue scoring from four yards out with 44 seconds left in the quarter for a 21-3 advantage.
"The first eight games, I didn't feel like I was much of the team," Edwards said. "These two weeks back-to-back, it seemed like the team needed me and I responded. Before the play, we
had talked about looking to create turnovers. Stripping the ball, I saw that he was running with the ball real loose."
Culpepper's first pass of the fourth quarter was picked off by safety Brent Alexander. Bouman started the next drive for Minnesota and moved the Vikings into Pittsburgh territory before Alexander picked off another pass.
After the Steelers ran some clock, Bouman got Minnesota within 21-10 with a throw to Bennett in the flat that the speedster turned into a touchdown.
Fuamatu-Ma'afala carried three straight times before Pittsburgh punted and Bouman directed the two-minute offense to perfection, using just 57 seconds to move the team 74 yards. The Vikings went for the two-point conversion but Bouman's toss to tight end Byron Chamberlain was off the mark.
"We had some big plays," Bouman said. "Randy made a big play down the sidelines. We made some plays around him. Any time you score quick, like on Bennett's touchdown, things can change in a hurry. Then getting one down the sideline to Randy, that gets your offense going."
After Fuamatu-Ma'afala carried twice on the Steelers' next possession, Stewart fumbled at his own 10. Bouman found Moss for five yards but with a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown, Cris Carter was flagged for offensive pass interference and the drive stalled with 1:58 to go.
Fuamatu-Ma'afala ran twice for no gain and the Vikings used their timeouts. But on third and 10, the bruising running back burst off right tackle for 46 yards to seal the victory.
"We had some opportunities," Green concluded. "We didn't convert those opportunities and it came down to the wire. We didn't stop them on third down in a four-minute type drill."