LONDON – The local chamber of commerce probably frowns upon reporters asking NFL players and coaches about flying to London six days early for a “home” game. Especially when those questions come moments after those players and coaches fall to 0-3 with an upset loss to the Cleveland Browns.
“It’s just what it is,” a dejected Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Sunday afternoon.
Quarterback Christian Ponder didn’t advance the hoopla any further Sunday when he followed Frazier to the podium and offered no spin to a reporter trying to twist a home game 4,000 miles from home as a competitive advantage considering Sunday’s stinker at Mall of America Field.
“It’s not a good time or a bad time [to go overseas],” Ponder said. “It’s just another game.”
In all likelihood, the Vikings’ season already is hopelessly off track. Only three teams — the 1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions and 1998 Bills — have made the playoffs after starting 0-3 since the current playoff format debuted in 1990.
But the Vikings can’t accept the fate of other teams as their future. At least not in Week 4, when they’re playing an 0-3 Steelers team that can’t run the ball and is minus-9 in turnover ratio.
The Vikings are 164-90, including playoffs, since moving into the Metrodome in 1982. That’s a .646 winning percentage they left on the other side of the Atlantic.
Obviously, the Browns proved that absolutely anything is possible in this league. But the favorable crowd noise at the Metrodome would have helped on both sides of the ball. The Vikings’ offense has turned the ball over 10 times, while the Steelers are the only team in the league without a takeaway. On the flip side, the Steelers have turned the ball over nine times, while the Vikings rank second in takeaways with 10.
“We don’t love the fact that we’re missing a home game here in Minneapolis,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “But this is the schedule we’ve been given and we’re going to make the best out of it that we can.”
Regular-season games in London began in 2007. The designated home teams have all had stadium issues that were ongoing or, like the Vikings, recently resolved.
Of the six home teams that have played so far, only the 2011 Buccaneers entered the game with a winning record (4-2). But a loss to the Bears in London jump-started the Bucs’ season-ending 10-game losing streak.
Last year, the Rams were the home team. They entered the game with a 3-1 home record, got drilled by the Patriots 45-7 and finished 1-2 in their final three real home games.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots love being the visiting team in this game. In 2009, they flew in late in the week and spanked the Buccaneers 35-7. Last year, they did the same to the Rams.
The biggest crowd in the history of the series — 84,254 — saw the Patriots beat the Bucs. The second-largest crowd — 84,004 — saw them beat the Rams last year. In both cases, most of the fans were behind the “visiting” Patriots because of Tom Brady and a huge Patriots following in London.
Frazier and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said they gave their support for the game after being convinced that the Vikings, with help from the league, could make this as close to a normal week of preparation as possible. The Vikings have left no detail untouched right down to team chef Geji McKinney shipping over extra Bisquick because Vikings players love biscuits and apparently the Brits don’t know a biscuit from a brat. (Yeah, we know, biscuits are cookies.)
Frazier said he sought advice from other coaches around the league who have traveled to London as the home team. One of them is his linebackers coach, Mike Singletary, who was head coach when the 49ers beat Denver 24-16 in 2010.
But no matter what the Vikings do or who they talk to, Wembley can never be the same as the Metrodome on third-and-long for the other team.
“We love home games as players,” Greenway said. “The way those Steeler fans really travel, I don’t know how much of a home game it will be.”
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org