By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings found an offensive spark in quarterback Matt Cassel and the team’s defense made a big play when it needed to.
Everson Griffen got a hold of Ben Roethlisberger and forced the quarterback to drop the ball inside the Viking 10-yard line to seal the Vikings 34-27 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium.
The Vikings (1-3) defense put a lot of pressure on Roethlisberger all game. They got five sacks, five pass deflections, five quarterback hits and one interception.
Along with the defense, the Vikings offense made some big plays.
Since Adrian Peterson’s 78-yard touchdown run on the Vikings first offensive play of the season, Minnesota had just one touchdown play of more than six yards.
Cassel threw a quick pass to Greg Jennings, who took the ball 70 yards for the score on the Vikings second offensive possession. Then on the team’s first possession of the second quarter, Peterson leapt a defender at the line of scrimmage, broke a tackle and ran for a 60-yard touchdown.
The Vikings were more aggressive on offense, and that may be because Cassel was under center. There was a different feel, and there just appeared to be a greater sense of confidence with the whole group.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave took more chances down field and called the game like there is more trust with Cassel as his quarterback.
In the running game, Peterson was able to break another long run with the help of a lead blocker cleaning out the hole. Jerome Felton, in his first game this season after serving a three-game suspension, led the way through the hole. The Vikings offensive line had its best game of the season allowing one sack and no quarterback hits.
The Vikings allowed 434 total yards and 5.6 yards per play. Also, the unit allowed the Steelers to march down the field in the final two minutes that, had the Steelers scored, would have tied the game. Griffen made the play, but the prevent defense nearly allowed the opposition to score in the final minute.
That was the bad news. The good news is that the unit made the play that it needed to, forced two turnovers – a fumble recovery and an interception and showed a dominant pass rush with five sacks and five additional hits on Roethlisberger.
Cassel didn’t put up huge numbers, but was more decisive than what they were getting from Christian Ponder. Cassel finished the game with 248 yards on 16-of-25 passing and two touchdowns. He was sacked once, which was fumbled and fortunately recovered by Jerome Simpson for a first down, and posted a 123.4 rating.
The Vikings entire offense appeared more comfortable and confident with Cassel under center than it has all season. That along with completing his last 11 passes gives the Vikings hope that it can still get into playoff contention.
The special teams units were a mixed bag of results. There were good moments and bad.
The good moments were Cordarrelle Patterson’s 42-yard kick return, Blair Walsh’s 54-yard field goal and Jeff Locke’s 57-yard punt.
the bad moments were Marcus Sherels’ illegal fair catch signal that negated a 68-yard punt return, Patterson’s 12-yard kickoff return, Walsh’s 44-yard missed field goal, Locke’s 37-yard punt and Steelers kick returner Felix Jones’ 33-yard kick return.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.