LONDON – With the Pittsburgh Steelers off to their worst start in 45 years, Ben Roethlisberger isn't mincing words about where the team stacks up against the rest of the NFL.
"Right now, you could say we're the worst team in the league," the Steelers quarterback said after Pittsburgh fell 34-27 to the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. "That hurts."
With Roethlisberger sacked five times and harassed all day by Jared Allen and the Vikings, the Steelers dropped to 0-4 — their worst start since 1968 when they lost their first six games en route to a 2-11-1 record.
Roethlisberger, who has won two Super Bowls with Pittsburgh, acknowledged this is the lowest point of his career.
"We are in uncharted territory and the water is dangerous right now," he said. "It stings. I have to hope and believe we can turn it around. That's the approach I'm going to take this week and next week. I'm going to do the best I can to lead these guys and let them see how I go about my job."
With a bye week before facing the New York Jets, and mainly pride left to play to play for, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin put players on notice that jobs could be at stake.
"I have great patience," he said. "The team will work to get better. As long as I see belief and effort and we continue to improve, that's what's going to change the outcome of these games. If I don't, (they) ain't going to be a part of it, whoever it may be. It's that simple."
The challenge resonated with Roethlisberger.
"Yeah, I'd start with myself," he said. "We have to hold ourselves accountable."
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, starting in place of the injured Christian Ponder, finished 16 of 25 for 248 yards and two touchdowns as Minnesota won its first game after three straight losses. Adrian Peterson ran for 140 yards on 23 carries — including two touchdowns — and Greg Jennings had two TD catches.
Roethlisberger completed 36 of 51 for 383 yards and one touchdown, but also had one interception and a fumble. The fumble came in the final seconds after he led the Steelers from their 22 to a first-and-goal and potential tying TD at Minnesota's 6 yard line.
On third down, he was sacked by Everson Griffen and Chad Greenway stripped the ball. Kevin Williams recovered with 19 seconds left to seal Minnesota's victory.
"I'm thinking just try to do anything you can to get rid of the ball, throw it away, do something, and I couldn't manage to get it out," Roethlisberger said. "I'm holding it out like a loaf of bread because I'm trying not to just take it to the ground. They got it out late. Even if I'd held on to it, I don't know if we would have had enough time."
Roethlisberger hurt the index finger on his right throwing hand while completing a 15-yard TD pass to Jerricho Cotchery in the fourth quarter. He had the finger taped after the game but said it wasn't serious.
Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell made his regular-season debut for the Steelers and ran for two scores and 57 yards on 16 carries. Wide receiver Antonio Brown had 12 catches for 88 yards and Cotchery had 103 yards on four receptions.
"I felt like we made good strides on offense," Roethlisberger said. "It's just hard to say that and to feel very good about yourself after a loss."
The Steelers' defense gave up nearly 400 yards and again came up without a turnover. Pittsburgh is without a single takeaway this season.
This was the seventh time the NFL has played a regular-season game in London. The Jacksonville Jaguars will play the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 27.
"It was an experience, an unbelievable feeling to come out of that tunnel. It felt like a coliseum," Roethlisberger said. "It was special. I've been blessed to play in Super Bowls and to have the feel of something big like that was amazing."
Asked whether he'd support the idea of having a fulltime NFL franchise in London, Roethlisberger was less enthusiastic.
"As long as I'm not playing those eight," he said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org