Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
Quick postgame keys to the Vikings’ 34-27 victory over the Steelers at Wembley Stadium.
The Cassel effect. Backup Matt Cassel got the start at quarterback because of Christian Ponder’s rib injury and was efficient and turnover free (although he got lucky on a fumble). Greg Jennings was engaged for the first time this season, and scored two touchdowns off Cassel passes. And Adrian Peterson got some more room, and ran for 140 yards.
Scary defense. The Vikings defense did enough to win, but did anyone feel comfortable late as the Steelers seemed on the verge of a comeback? Only a big play by Everson Griffen, with a sack on the final stand, saved the day.
Just in time victory. Only one team has started 0-4 and made the playoffs, so this was a must-win for the Vikings.
It's worth noting that one of the first things Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game is Ponder is his starting quarterback. So ... let the QB controversy begin.
Here are the video highlights and final stats.
The Vikings have a bye this week before playing Carolina at home on Oct. 13.
LONDON -- Here's what we're seeing at halftime as the Vikings lead the Steelers 20-10 at Wembley Stadium:
The Good: Blair Walsh making a 54-yard field goal on the opening drive, salvaging a drive in which Matt Cassel threw incomplete on his final three passes, and extening his streak of 50-yard makes to start a career to 12. Walsh added a 37-yarder in the closing minute of the half. ... Greg Jennings making two defenders miss, splitting Pittsburgh's secondary and then outrunning two DBs, including Troy Polamalu for a 70-yard touchdown run, his seventh career 70-yard reception. ... Adrian Peterson's 60-yard touchdown run, which came with Jerome Felton leading him, and ended a streak of four consecutive three-and-outs by the two teams. ... Two possessions, 10 points to open a "noon" "home" game played at 6 p.m. 4,000 miles from the Metrodome. ... Jared Allen spanking left tackle Mike Adams. Allen has two solo sacks, one that was announced as half a sack with Sharrif Floyd. And he forced a holding call on Adams.
The Bad: Marcus Sherels negating a 67-yard punt return deep into Steelers territory by making a weak fair-catch signal. ... Josh Robinson having a poor first half, including giving up a 36-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders to set up Pittsburgh's first touchdown. ... Giving up an eight-yard touchdown run to rookie Le'Veon Bell on an easy run around right end. The Steelers came in averaging 3.0 yards per carry, 30th in the NFL. This, however, is Bell's NFL debut after spraining a foot in the preseason.
The Ugly: Giving up two third-and-long situations on the Steelers' field goal drive late in the second quarter. Robinson gave up a 14-yarder to Antonio Brown on third-and-11. But the real killer was a 28-yard pass to Heath Miller. Safety Harrison Smith made that one much worse with a helmet-to-helmet hit that tacked on 15 more yards.
What we learned in the first half: Matt Cassel doesn't look much different than Christian Ponder. He's 0-for-2 on balls thrown farther than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Both were bad overthrows of Jerome Simpson. One should have been intercepted in the end zone, but Ike Taylor dropped it. Cassel also misfired on many other passes. and is 6 of 15 for 128 yards, one TD and no turnovers. But at least it appears Cassel's luck is better. He was stripped of the ball while scrambling. The ball shot forward and was recovered by Simpson for a 10-yard gain. The 70-yard TD to Jennings was a pass that traveled only seven yards.
The Vikings practices were wrapped up this afternoon, and reporters were leaving Winter Park, when the shocking word came in: The Cleveland Browns, who play the Vikings on Sunday, traded running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a No. 1 pick in 2014.
Richardson was the third overall choice in 2012 -- remember, the Browns traded four picks to the Vikings to move up one spot to take him. And Richardson, just a couple of hours before the trade, spoke to Twin Cities media on a conference call and was very optimistic about the Browns' future.
And so it goes for the Browns' star-crossed franchise.
So, on to notes from earlier in the day ...
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier admitted he was pleased that the Cleveland Browns announced Wednesday morning that No. 3 quarterback Brian Hoyer -- and not backup Jason Campbell -- will start Sunday in place of injured starter Brandon Weeden.
"A lot better than finding out Sunday at noon," Frazier said. "Promise you that."
Frazier said his coaching staff spent the past two days studying tape of Campbell in anticipation that he would replace Weeden, who suffered a thumb injury on Sunday. Now, they'll have to switch gears and study tape of Hoyer, who has started one career game -- last season against San Francisco when he played for the Arizona Cardinals.
"We’ll have to do our homework on Brian and learn a little bit about him," Frazier said.
Frazier preached patience with Peterson
Adrian Peterson said he needed some "soul-searching" after rushing for 100 yards with no touchdowns and one fumble on Sunday. Peterson said he felt "hesitant" running the ball against the Bears.
Frazier said he doesn't think Peterson looked hesitant but that he looked for the big play too often.
"I don’t know if hesitancy is the word [but] trying to make every run a 60-yard run, which is not always going to be the case," Frazier said. "Sometimes, you’ve just got to get what’s there. And he’s been good at that and he’ll be better going forward."
Focus on your job only
Linebacker Chad Greenway hasn't performed to his standards the first two games, and he expressed frustration over his missed tackles after Sunday's loss. Frazier said he believes Greenway is trying to make plays for other guys instead of just concentrating on his responsibilities.
"Just got to slow down a little bit and do the things he's always done," Frazier said. "He does not have to make anybody else's plays. Just do your job, calm down, relax and play the way he's always played. He's had a lot of success for us. He's played at a Pro Bowl level. Just don't feel like you have to do any more other than your job."
Frazier was asked if it's possible that Greenway is trying to provide help to new middle linebacker Erin Henderson and thus getting himself out of position.
"That's something we've got to guard against," he said. "You've just got to trust that he's going to do his job, you do your job and we'll be fine as a group. He shouldn't feel like he has to do any more than he has in the past."
Ponder not second-guessing play calls
The Vikings had a chance to put Sunday's game away when they had the ball first-and-goal from Chicago's 6 late in the fourth quarter. But they got stopped on three plays and kicked a field goal to take a six-point lead.
Bill Musgrave's third-down call -- a Peterson run to the left side into the teeth of the Bears defense -- gained zero yards and drew criticism for being conservative.
Ponder defended that play call.
"We have the best running back in the league," he said. "Again, we wanted points on the board. We didn’t want anything crazy to happen. We wanted to keep the clock running or force them to take a timeout. So if we incomplete a ball, the clock stops and they don’t need to take a timeout. You know, unfortunately, Monday morning quarterback, it’s easy to look back and think that we could’ve done things differently. But I wouldn’t expect that if it happens this week that we would change that. I mean, Adrian can make plays all the time, and he does a great job of it.”
The NFL announced on Monday that Vikings Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton has been suspended for three games without pay for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
The suspension was related to a DUI that Felton was charged with in 2012, an NFL source confirmed. The report when Felton was charged on June 2, 2012, indicated that he had a DWI conviction within the past 10 years, making this his second offense.
Update: The Vikings also issued this statement on the status of standout defensive tackle Kevin Williams' injured right knee. “Kevin Williams suffered a hyperextension injury to his right knee in last night’s football game. An MRI exam today revealed a significant bone contusion as well as a posterior capsular strain. Kevin was fortunate in that there was no injury to any of his ligaments.” – Head Coach Leslie Frazier
That diagnosis appears to mean that Williams could miss some time while recovering, but that surgery will not be necessary.
As for Felton, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless driving the June 2, 2012 case, but the league suspended him anyway. Felton appealed the suspension and lost, the source confirmed.
The league announced that Felton will be eligible to return to the team on Monday, Sept. 23, the day after the team's Cleveland game. Felton's suspension begins Saturday, and will include road games at Detroit and Chicago.
The Vikings issued this statement from General Manager Rick Spielman: “We respect the league’s decision and Jerome understands it. Jerome is focused on returning to the playing field in week four vs. Pittsburgh.”
Felton has missed part of the preseason after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Aug. 14.
Felton's suspension will cost him $150,000 of his $850,000 base salary this season. He signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract during the offseason after making the Pro Bowl as the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 2,097 yards.
The Vikings did not have access today, a travel day after Sunday night's 34-14 preseason loss in San Francisco.
Felton's DUI charge was detailed in this Star Tribune story last month:
Ten weeks after signing with the Vikings, he spent a Friday night drinking at the Towne Place Suites in Eden Prairie, got an urge for a chicken sandwich and made a 0.92-mile drive to McDonald’s. An employee thought Felton was falling asleep behind the wheel and called police. Felton was arrested and cited for two misdemeanor counts of driving while impaired.
“That could have easily been the end of my career,” he says. “Definitely.”
The next morning Felton called his family in tears. Shaken, he also explained his side to the Vikings’ front office. He prayed for a second chance but knew the organization might see his arrest as an unwanted distraction from an unproven journeyman and cut him loose.
Frazier made his disappointment known in front of the entire team.
“But,” he says, “I saw something in Jerome that convinced me he made a mistake and would learn from it. … If we had let him go after that incident, I would have been surprised if he would have gotten picked up.”
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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