Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
The Vikings and Redskins will take part in one of the NFL's 32 “Salute to Service” military appreciation games this season at Mall of America Field dedicated to all branches of the United States Armed Forces and current and former military personnel serving the country.
Players will have a decal representing one branch of the military on their helmets. They’ll also wear camouflage gloves and towels while the coaches wear special ribbons. All game used items will be auctioned with the proceeds donated to the league’s core military non-profit partners (USO, the Pat Tillman Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project) and also donate $100 for every point scored in all 32 “Salute to Service” games.
The Vikings will be proclaimed as a Yellow Ribbon company before the game, which unites key areas within the organization for the purpose of proactively supporting servicemembers, veterans and military families in the workplace, according to a release. They're the first professional team and the 32nd Minnesota organization to be named as a Yellow Ribbon company.
The pregame festivities also will include a cool card stunt during the national anthem to send a military appreciate message. USAA has engineered the message and assigned 50,000 cards in the seats so fans hold them up to display a patriotic message with stars and stripes.
The Vikings and USAA ask that fans be in their seats 15 minutes before kickoff to ensure full-stadium participation during the national anthem. Vikings fans can see images of the card stunt or show support for their local military with a salute at millionfansalute.com.
If pulled off properly, the message should look like this:
LONDON -- Just wrapped up our coverage of the Vikings 34-27 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium. Stories, columns and videos should be posted online shortly.
It's 3:30 a.m. here and Mark and I have a taxi picking us up at 5 a.m. to begin our trek back to Minnesota. But first wanted to give you the Vikings reaction to the atmosphere inside Wembley tonight.
The announced attendance was 83,518. Both teams were well-represented in terms of fans. I don't know if it was 50-50, but the stadium was noisy all game.
"It was full of energy," Adrian Peterson said. "The fans went crazy. It was just a great atmosphere to play in."
It wasn't the same as a true home game at Mall of America Field, but the Vikings seemed genuinely appreciative of the atmosphere and the entire week they spent here.
"It made it an experience," quarterback Matt Cassel said. "The whole week that we've been here the fans have been tremendous, the people are tremendous and it really did feel like a home game here. All night long we were encouraged. The fans were into the game, and it was a great experience for us. Just being here at Wembley was really special."
Said Leslie Frazier: "The fan noise, we felt at times like we were almost back at Mall of America. It was noisy. There was a lot of purple in those stands, so it was terrific all the way around."
The Vikings are flying home tomorrow and the players have the rest of the bye week off. Frazier will hold his usual Monday press conference on Tuesday.
See you back home.
Do the Big Ben jokes ever get old?
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who traveled to London on a promotional trip in July, said not yet, even though he spent part of one day posing in front of the famous English clock tower.
“It didn’t get as much run as I anticipated, so that was good,” he said. “There were a lot of pictures out there, and people didn’t make a big a deal out of it.”
Roethlisberger and the Steelers play the Vikings on Sunday, and he said he changed his attitude on the game after his tour.
“I took it as this is just a money-making thing for the NFL, but when I got over there, I got to see that there were a lot of football fans over there,” he said. “So once I got to see that, I got to see that it’s going to be neat for them and a neat experience for us, so I’ve embraced it a lot more than initially.
“There is a Steelers Nation UK, so there’s a lot of Steelers fans there, and they all told me they were going to be there.”
The Steelers, like the Vikings winless at 0-3, will fly to London after Thursday’s practice, arriving on Friday. They are the “road” team for the game.
Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin talked to the Twin Cities “left behind” media today in a conference call at Winter Park, and most of the talk centered on the Steelers’ woes. The six-time Super Bowl champions have not forced a turnover this year and are last in the NFL in rushing, making two trademarks of the team disappear in a hurry. Roethlisberger has four interceptions and the team has lost five fumbles.
“Turning the ball over -- that’s on me, and I can’t have it happen,” he said. “ If we don’t turn the ball over in critical situations, or as much as we have, then we are in most of the those games.”
Tomlin is hoping his team’s struggling offense, especially the running game, can right itself.
“We’ve turned the ball over, particularly in the red area, and obviously that takes points off the board,” he said. “People have scored directly off those turnovers, putting points directly on the board, you can’t do that in the NFL and expect to be better than 0-3. We understand that, but understanding that is only part of it, we got to rectify, we got to fix it.”
Roethlisberger has been sacked 10 times, and Tomlin said, “It’s been a multitude of things, game situations and circumstances have been a part of that -- when you’re in predictable situations because you’re behind, that’s going to dictate how certain people play football. The raw number is a product of that. But we have to do a better job of protecting him.”
The Steelers should have their rookie running back, Le’Veon Bell, a second round choice from Michigan State, back for the game. He has been injured since preseason. Opening day starter Isaac Redman has also been hurt, and Felix Jones is the team’s leading rusher – with only 71 yards.
Cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) also will return.
The Vikings haven't spoken to former Vikings cornerback and now former Seahawks cornerback Antoine Winfield, who informed the Seahawks on Saturday that he was retiring.
Apparently, the door is still open. Here's what coach Leslie Frazier had to say when asked about Winfield after today's practice:
"I have a ton of respect for Antoine," Frazier said. "He did a lot of good things for us here. He had a great career here in Minnesota. He really helped me look good at times with some of the plays he made. I have a deep affection for him.
"If he wanted to play [this season], I'd welcome the opportunity to work with Antoine again if that's what he wanted to do. But if he's retired, I wish him nothing but the best. He's been a great player, a great person. He's going to enjoy retirement."
Asked if he's spoken to Winfield in the past two days, Frazier said, "I haven't spoken to him. I may give him a call today just to wish him well."
In other Vikings news ...
Adrian Peterson will carry the ball sometime during the preseason, but Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was still vague about when that might happen -- although Frazier at least narrowed it down to either Friday's game at Buffalo or the third preseason game at San Francisco.
"Between this week and next week would be the time we're going to play him, if we play him in the preseason," Frazier said Wednesday after the Vikings' final walk-through in the Mankato portion of training camp. "We want to do something in these next couple of weeks."
Obviously Peterson, and most of the team's key players, will sit out the fourth preseason game Aug. 29 against Tennessee at the Metrodome. The regular season opens Sept. 8 at Detroit.
A larger-than-average morning crowd was present Wednesday for Fan Appreciation Day at Mankato. The team has its final padded practice in Mankato this afternoon. The players will spend their final night in the dorms before traveling back to the Cities and flying to Buffalo tomorrow. The team resumes training camp at its Winter Park facility on Sunday.
One thing is known: Quarterback Christian Ponder will get a lot more action against the Bills than he did in last Friday's preseason loss to Houston at the Metrodome, when he threw only two passes.
"Hopefully I can more than quadruple that number," he joked. "Hopefully play a lot more ... I guess the plan is at least a quarter."
Frazier was effusive in his praise of the Minnesota State University training site, and said the three-week portion of camp has been "very successful."
"We were able to cover a lot of ground, and introduce our players to how we want to do things over the course of the season," he said.
After missing last week's game because of a hamstring injury, rookie first-round pick Xavier Rhodes will get a long look against Buffalo.
"We want him to get a feel for the speed of an NFL game," said Frazier. Josh Robinson and Chris Cook will be the starting corners, with Rhodes getting a lot of action as the nickel back.
Frazier hoped for a quiet final night in Mankato.
"I hope none of our players has big plans," he joked.
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