Backup Matt Cassel leads balanced attack for Vikings' first win
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One can only imagine the emotion in the Minnesota Vikings locker room on Sunday after they flew more than 4,000 miles to London for their first win of 2013.
After losing two of their first three games on last-minute touchdown passes, the Vikings (1-3) toppled quarterback 'Big Ben' Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) behind a balanced offensive effort led by backup quarterback Matt Cassel for the 34-27 win.
Against the ropes again late in the game, this time the Vikings had the last laugh.
Roethlisberger took three shots from the Vikings' six-yard line with less than a minute left, but failed to convert for the tying score as defensive end Everson Griffen had the sack, linebacker Chad Greenway had the strip and defensive tackle Kevin Williams had the fumble recovery to seal the one-score victory on the final third-down play.
"There is a sense of relief," Coach Leslie Frazier said via television press conference. "We've been in these games and for some reason it hadn't worked out for us."
The Vikings offense put up 34 points, but went scoreless in the fourth quarter for the second time in four games. Minnesota has just nine fourth-quarter points so far and not even Cassel's energizing performance could change that.
However, Cassel led the Vikings to their first two touchdowns to wide receivers and did not turn the ball over -- the first time this season for a Vikings quarterback. Receiver Greg Jennings' catch-and-run in the first quarter put the Vikings up 10-0 after he ran 50-plus yards for the 70-yard score.
Cassel completed his last 11 passes, finishing 16-of-25 for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had a clear intention to get the passing game going early, calling throws on seven of the team's first 10 plays. Cassel took shots downfield to receiver Jerome Simpson, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and Jennings during the game, escaping a few near-interceptions by Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor.
Running back Adrian Peterson leaped over Taylor on his way to a 60-yard touchdown run to open the second quarter and set up a 17-7 lead. Peterson finished with 140 yards, a 6.1-yards-per-carry average and two touchdowns as he found more room against an aging Steelers defense that still doesn't have a takeaway in 2013.
Peterson also played better behind fullback Jerome Felton, who returned from a three-game suspension to start his first game this season. After nearly 250 yards passing and a +2 turnover differential, the Vikings are no longer winless.
"It was a collective effort," Peterson said in his press conference.