LONDON – The Minnesota Vikings got on the jet back to the United States with newfound reasons to believe they can salvage this season.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, an unsuccessful London trip means it already could be time to start looking toward next year.
The Vikings and Steelers both arrived in Britain knowing that only a win would give them a realistic chance of fighting for a playoff spot. After Minnesota's entertaining 34-27 win at Wembley Stadium, the optimism is certainly back in the Vikings' locker room.
"There is a sense of relief, for sure," Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier said. "We've had some tough losses. In the fourth quarter of every one of these ballgames we were right there. For whatever reason, it didn't work out for us."
At Wembley Stadium, the Vikings' defense finally found a way of finishing the job. With the Steelers looking for a tying touchdown, Everson Griffen stripped Ben Roethlisberger of the ball on the 6-yard line with 19 seconds left and Kevin Williams recovered the fumble to seal the victory.
Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson provided the offensive spark for the Vikings, with each scoring two touchdowns.
"It would have been a long flight back to take after a loss," Jennings said. "It was a special day. To do this at Wembley Stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Here are five things we learned from the Vikings' win over the Steelers in London:
PONDERING PONDER: Matt Cassel made the most of his first opportunity to play for the Minnesota Vikings, and suddenly Christian Ponder's starting spot may not be all that secure. With Ponder sidelined by a rib injury, Cassel went 16 for 25 for 248 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, he had no turnovers — although he did fumble once but the ball was recovered by Jerome Simpson for a 10-yard gain. "It was a great night for me," Cassel said, "and I was really excited about the fact that I was able to contribute to the team." He was quick to add that Ponder "is a heck of a quarterback," and that "hopefully he gets healthy and comes back soon." As far as Frazier is concerned, there's no quarterback controversy. "If you're asking, our quarterback is Christian Ponder," the coach said.
DOUBLE THREAT: Jennings finally showed off his play-making ability, and that could help take some of the burden off Peterson going forward. Having caught just 11 passes in the first three games with no touchdowns, Jennings broke off a 70-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter and added a second TD in the second half. It was the kind of performance the Vikings had been expecting when they signed the wide receiver from the Green Bay Packers in the offseason. "Playing against that guy for a couple of years at Green Bay, I definitely knew what he had and what he could bring to the table for this offense," Peterson said. "He was able to make a big play today that helped us win. So he's doing exactly what I expected."
LONG BYE: The Steelers have two weeks to ponder the predicament they find themselves in. No team has made the playoffs after starting 0-4 since the 1992 San Diego Chargers. And if the Steelers don't improve dramatically, there's little to indicate they'll replicate that feat. "Right now you could say we're the worst team in the league," Roethlisberger said. "That hurts." The quarterback was hurting physically, too, after hurting the index finger on his throwing hand and being sacked five times by the Vikings. He said the finger wasn't broken and should be fine.
SAVED BY BELL? If there's anything positive for the Steelers to take back home from London, it was the performance of Le'Veon Bell. The rookie running back made his much-anticipated debut after a foot injury and gave the team its first two rushing touchdowns of the season. He first broke off to the right for an 8-yard score to make it 10-7, somersaulting into the end zone, and pulled Pittsburgh within 3 by plowing in from the 1-yard line in the third quarter.
BLOCK PARTY: Peterson has his favorite blocker back, and that makes him even more difficult to stop. Fullback Jerome Felton returned from a three-game suspension and provided key blocks on both of Peterson's touchdown runs. The league MVP finished with 140 yards on 23 carries, and said Felton was a big reason for that. "It made a big difference," Peterson said. "He's one of those guys that you know is going to bring it to the table."
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