In the city of Big Ben, it was Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson who proved to be the biggest attractions.
That means Ben Roethlisberger is leaving London with the Pittsburgh Steelers off to their worst start since 1968 – and with only the faintest of hopes of making the playoffs.
Jennings made two touchdown catches, Peterson ran for two scores and the Vikings’ defense made a big stop with time running out to preserve a 34-27 win over the Steelers on Sunday for their first win of the season.
Playing at London’s Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL’s annual International Series, Everson Griffen stripped Roethlisberger of the ball on the 6-yard line with 19 seconds left and Kevin Williams recovered the fumble to seal the victory.
In one of the most entertaining games at Wembley yet, Jennings made a 70-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown and Peterson had a 60-yard score to offset two scores by Pittsburgh rookie running back Le’Veon Bell and give Minnesota (1-3) some hope of turning its season around.
The Steelers fell to 0-4 for the first time in 45 years.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, starting in place of the injured Christian Ponder, finished 16 of 25 for 248 yards and two touchdowns. Peterson ran for 140 yards on 23 carries and Jennings finally showed off his playmaking ability in his best game yet with the Vikings, finishing with 92 yards on three receptions.
Roethlisberger again received little help from his offensive line as he faced constant pressure and was sacked five times. He finished 36 for 51 for 383 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
This was a game both teams desperately needed to win in order to get momentum heading into their bye weeks. No team has reached the playoffs after an 0-4 start since the San Diego Chargers in 1992.
But with two winless teams traveling to London, there were some fears that the British crowd would be treated to a bit of a dud. This game was anything but.
Jennings provided the biggest highlight when he caught a short pass from Cassel in the first quarter, broke two tackles and ran for the 70-yard score to put Minnesota up 10-0. It was his first TD reception since joining from the Green Bay Packers in the offseason, and he added a second on a 16-yard catch in the third that extended the lead to 34-17.
Peterson didn’t want to be outdone, breaking through a large hole for his 60-yard run in the second quarter and adding a 7-yard TD in the third. On both plays, he received blocking from fullback Jerome Felton, who made his return from a three-game suspension.
Pittsburgh made sure it was a tense finish, however, with Jerricho Cotchery catching a 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and Shaun Suisham making a 28-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game with 3:40 left.
The Steelers got the ball back on their own 22-yard line with 1:43 left and no timeouts, and Roethlisberger completed six passes to get a first-and-goal at the 6. But after spiking the ball, he overthrew Cotchery in the end zone and was stripped on the next play.
The Steelers are still looking for their first turnover of the season, as they failed to recover Cassel’s fumble on the Vikings 38 in the second quarter, with the ball bouncing forward before being recovered by Jerome Simpson for a 10-yard gain.
Cassel was lucky not to be intercepted on the first drive when he overthrew Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone, but cornerback IkeTaylor couldn’t hold on to the ball. He finished the game without a turnover – something Ponder has struggled with this season – possibly giving head coach Leslie Frazier something to think about during the bye week.
Bell was making his long-awaited debut for the Steelers after a foot injury, and gave the team its first rushing touchdowns of the season. He broke off to the right for an 8-yard score to make it 10-7, somersaulting into the end zone, and again pulled Pittsburgh within 3 by plowing in from the 1-yard line in the third quarter.
The second score was set up by a 48-yard pass interference penalty against cornerback Josh Robinson that made it first-and-goal from the 1.