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.
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.
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.
Big changes aren’t a coming at Winter Park, says Leslie Frazier, who’s trying hard to keep a calm hand on the wheel of an 0-3 Vikings team.
“I don’t know if change for the sake of change is the right thing to do, from my perspective,” said Frazier, whose team boards a plane for London at 7 tonight. “You got to be able to stand in front of the guys in the locker room and talk to them about why you’re making the change. Then it’s got to be something you feel like is going to help your football team be successful. So change for change sake – I don’t totally buy into that.”
So if you’re pleading for personnel changes, including one at a certain position called quarterback, it’s not going to happen. At least not this week.
“There’s a lot of different things you can do, other than personnel, to change things up a little bit,” Frazier said. “And I’ve taken that approach at times. But when you make those changes, you want to have a reason why you’re doing it.”
It’s not just Ponder, Ponder, Ponder:
For the umpteenth time, Frazier said he’s seen enough from Christian Ponder to believe he is the best option at quarterback. There were Purple breakdowns all over the field in all three phases of the game on Sunday. Ponder didn’t help the situation by completing only 25 of 42 passes for 228 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, one lost fumble and a 64.4 passer rating.
Frustrated fans at Mall of America started a “Let’s Go Cassel!” chant in the third quarter after one of the team’s six three-and-out possessions in the 31-27 loss to the Browns. Cassel is Matt Cassel, former fan villain in Kansas City and now apparent savior in the Twin Cities.
“[Ponder] made some plays for us yesterday that we needed,” Frazier said. “There were some other plays that we needed to make that we didn’t always get. But he’ll have to keep growing and keep developing. We’re doing enough things that are not right across the board that are affecting our won-loss record, and it’s not just the quarterback position. He has to play better, but so do some other groups on our football team. I don’t think where we are is necessarily purely because of Christian Ponder.”
Frazier said the three defensive backs who left Sunday’s game – cornerback Chris Cook (groin), cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle) and strong safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) – will have magnetic resonance imaging exams today.
Asked if he was concerned that any of them would miss Sunday’s game against the Steelers, Frazier said, “Not at this point, but it’s kind of early. So, I’ll have to wait at least until the end of the day to get some results back.”
Fullback Jerome Felton will return from this three-game NFL-mandated suspension for violation of the league's substance abuse policy, relating to a DWI arrest. To make room for Felton on the roster, rookie fullback Zach Line went on injured reserve.
Kevin Williams will start his 158th game on Sunday, passing Hall of Famer Alan Page for most career starts by a Vikings defensive tackle. Williams trails only Jim Marshall (270) and Carl Eller (201) for most starts by a defensive lineman.
“It’s a blessing to be healthy and to make that many starts,” Williams said. “It’s awesome to be able to start that long and play that well in the NFL nowadays.”
In 11 seasons, Williams has missed only three games because of injury – two in 2005 and the season opener in Detroit two weeks ago.
Asked his secret to staying healthy and being able to play through pain, Williams said, “Maybe being breast fed helped a lot. They say you’re getting the best nutrients you can get. [laughing]. I’m just blessed that I’ve been able to do it. I guess the Good Lord is [responsible] for that.”
Ellison declared out
The Vikings are getting thin at fullback. Jerome Felton will serve the final game of his suspension Sunday and Rhett Ellison was declared out Friday because of a knee injury. That means rookie Zach Line and tight end John Carlson will share fullback duties.
Wide receiver Greg Jennings missed practice Friday to tend to a personal matter. Frazier said Jennings is expected to play Sunday.
Who are these guys
The Vikings probably found little use studying film of Cleveland’s first two games this season. On Sunday, the Browns offense will line up with a new quarterback (Brian Hoyer), new running back (Willis McGahee) and new No. 1 wide receiver (Josh Gordon).
“You can only speculate how different it will be,” Frazier said. “We’ll have to see as the game goes on exactly who the Browns are with some of the new faces in their offense.”
Leslie Frazier continued to accept blame for his defense's meltdown on the final drive against the Chicago Bears in a 31-30 loss on Sunday. But he also cited a lack of execution on the players part, too.
Frazier blamed himself immediately after the game for not doing more on that drive, and he continued with that theme at his Monday press conference.
Frazier remained vague on what he would have done differently, other than admitting he should have managed that situation better.
"We’re talking about a sequence that was a very important sequence during the course of the game," he said. "You can’t take away all the good things our defensive did yesterday. There are just some things from my standpoint that I have to manage better."
Frazier said he doesn't want to take over play-call duties from defensive coordinator Alan Williams in that situation. That's not his intent.
"Our defense was well prepared," he said. "They did a great job to do the things they did to allow us to be where we were in that ball game. So no, I don't foresee a situation like that. Alan and our defensive staff, they've done a very good job. They did a good job a season ago and they're doing a good job now."
Several defensive players were upset with the play calls on the final drive. Middle linebacker Erin Henderson said he was surprised by the play call on the game-winning 16-yard TD catch by Martellus Bennett.
Frazier said the Vikings were prepared for that look and even made that same defensive call twice in the first half.
"We called it back to back, when they tried those fade balls," Frazier said. "We just didn’t execute it as well and it cost us. That’s something we worked on, something we executed well in the first half, but we didn’t get it executed there.”
Frazier added: "We work on it in that area of the field often. We used it a season ago as well, and we used it in the first half as well. So it’s a defense that we’ve run before. We just didn’t get it executed in that situation. We have a few different things that we do with 20 seconds left, with 10 seconds left in a game and we have a couple different calls, but we do have a go-to call that they know that we like.”
Patterson playing time issue
Frazier also addressed Cordarrelle Patterson's lack of playing time. A week after playing only five offensive snaps against Detroit, Patterson was on the field for only six plays on Sunday.
"We're going to get that rectified," Frazier said. "He definitely deserves to be on the field more. He's shown that in the few snaps he's gotten in these first two ball games. Hopefully, everything being equal, that should not be a part of the conversation next week. We want to get him on the field. He's one of our explosive players for sure. We see what he does when he gets the ball in his hands. We've got to find a way to get him on the field."
|Vikings (3703)||People (1)|
|AFC (89)||Bears (455)|
|Ex-Vikings (45)||Football on TV (53)|
|Lions (354)||NFC (1359)|
|NFL draft (255)||NFL post-season (28)|
|Packers (508)||Super Bowl (266)|
|Vikings coaches (83)||Vikings defense (255)|
|Vikings fans (116)||Vikings injury report (291)|
|Vikings management (31)||Vikings off the field (281)|
|Vikings offense (366)||Vikings quarterbacks (257)|
|Vikings road games (77)||Vikings rookies (36)|
|Vikings roster moves (40)||Vikings special teams (37)|
|Vikings training camp (132)||Injury report (344)|
|Off the field (138)||On the road (81)|
|Quarterbacks (325)||Rookies (77)|
|Roster moves (17)||Vikings draft (267)|
|Vikings trade talk (2)||Vikings players (805)|
|Adrian Peterson (960)||Anthony Herrera (161)|
|Antoine Winfield (411)||Ben Leber (97)|
|Bernard Berrian (213)||Bobby Wade (16)|
|Brad Childress (639)||Brett Favre (808)|
|Brian Robison (170)||Bryant McKinnie (106)|
|Cedric Griffin (194)||Chad Greenway (203)|
|Chester Taylor (79)||Chris Kluwe (118)|
|Darrell Bevell (120)||E.J. Henderson (183)|
|Heath Farwell (50)||Jared Allen (408)|
|John Sullivan (206)||Kevin Williams (228)|
|Leslie Frazier (936)||Madieu Williams (78)|
|Pat Williams (154)||Percy Harvin (679)|
|Phil Loadholt (164)||Ray Edwards (173)|
|Ryan Longwell (145)||Sage Rosenfels (102)|
|Sidney Rice (273)||Steve Hutchinson (191)|
|Tarvaris Jackson (171)||Tyrell Johnson (151)|
|Visanthe Shiancoe (216)||Brad Childress (643)|
|Darrell Bevell (121)||Leslie Frazier (945)|