Loss leaves Steelers as ‘worst team in the league’

September 29, 2013
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is assisted by his teammates after he was sacked during Sunday’s game against the Vikings at Wembley Stadium in London. - Associated Press

LONDON – As England learned more than 1,000 years ago, battling the Vikings on English soil is not a winning proposition.

Minnesota made many big offensive plays and sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times Sunday en route to a 34-27 victory over the Steelers at Wembley Stadium.

Pittsburgh drops to 0-4 for the first time since 1986.

“We are in unchartered territory and the water is dangerous right now, so we have to stick together and get out of this,” Roethlisberger said. “Right now, you could say we are the worst team in the league. That hurts.”

The Vikings (1-3) avoided an 0-4 start of their own. Adrian Peterson rushed for two touchdowns, including a 60- yarder, and Matt Cassel, starting in place of injured Christian Ponder, threw a 70-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings, as Minnesota gained 395 yards, including 140 from Peterson on the ground.

“It would have been a long flight back to take after a loss,” Jennings said. “It was a special day. To do this at Wembley Stadium is a once-in-aliftime experience.”

Pittsburgh’s offense was unable to keep up with the Vikings, though Roethlisberger tried to direct a late rally. Roethlisberger passed for 383 yards and had the Steelers at the Minnesota 6-yard line with less than a minute remaining, but a third-down sack by Everson Griffen forced a fumble and the Vikings recovered to end the comeback.

“We came up short, but we played better than we have in recent weeks,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “We gave up explosive plays. You can’t do that. … We’re going to focus on getting better, and that’s what’s going to change the outcome of football games.”

Minnesota took a 3-0 lead on its opening possession, getting a 54-yard field goal from Blair Walsh. It was the longest field goal ever made against the Steelers.

Following a Pittsburgh punt, the Vikings made it 10-0 when Jennings took a short pass from Cassel, shook a tackle attempt by Cortez Allen, deked a diving William Gay and outraced the rest of the Steelers’ defense to the end zone for a 70-yard catch-and-run.

“You throw a five-yard hitch, and he goes 70 yards. It makes your job a lot easier,” Cassel said. “Those guys made plays all night.”

The Steelers trimmed the lead to 10-7 when Bell took a handoff, gave a wiggle to the inside and burst outside to the front corner of the end zone, diving and doing a flip to cover the final three yards for an 8-yard touchdown run. The play was set up by a 36-yard bomb from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders.

Peterson, who had gained 17 yards on his first six carries, hurt the Steelers badly on his seventh carry. He took a handoff through a hole off right tackle and ran basically untouched for a 60-yard touchdown with 12:42 remaining in the second quarter, putting Minnesota ahead, 17-7.

Roethlisberger directed a 15-play drive that started deep in Pittsburgh territory, moving the Steelers to the Minnesota 3. But he was sacked by Jared Allen on third down – Allen’s second sack of the series and third of the first half – to force a 26-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham that trimmed the Minnesota lead to 17-10 with 3:43 remaining in the first half.

Minnesota pushed the lead back to 10 points at 20-10 on a 37-yard Walsh field goal just before halftime. The Steelers nearly ended the possession at midfield – and recorded their first takeaway of the season – when linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacked Cassel, stripping the football loose. But the ball squirted forward, through the hands of linebacker Jarvis Jones before wide receiver Jerome Simpson fell on it for a first down.

The Steelers pulled to within 20-17 on the opening possession of the second half, moving the ball to the Minnesota 1 on a 50-yard pass interference penalty after Antonio Brown was tackled on a deep pass attempt in the end. That set up Bell for a second rushing touchdown.

But the Vikings quickly regained their 10-point advantage, with Cassel completing a long pass over the middle to Jennings to set up a second TD run by Peterson, this one from seven yards.

Roethlisberger then threw an interception to linebacker Chad Greenway while attempting a pass to Sanders, who stopped running on the play. Two plays later, Cassel threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jennings to push Minnesota’s advantage to 34-17 late in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger brought the Steelers back to within 10 at 34-24 with a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.

Walsh missed a field goal from 44 yards midway through the fourth quarter and Suisham made one from 28 yards to make it 34-27 with 3:40 remaining.

The Steelers got the ball back at their own 22 with 1:43 left and no timeouts. Roethlisberger completed six passes as the Steelers reached the Vikings’ 6, but Cotchery was overthrown in the end zone and Roethlisberger fumbled on the next play.

“I’m thinking just try to do anything you can to get rid of the ball, throw it away, do something, and I couldn’t manage to get it out,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m holding it out like a loaf of bread because I’m trying not to just take it to the ground. They got it out late. Even if I’d held on to it, I don’t know if we would have had enough time.”

Odds and end zones

Running back Isaac Redman, listed as the Steelers’ starter, was on the inactive list. … Guard Ramon Foster left in the second quarter with a chest injury. He returned briefly but did not play after halftime. He was replaced by Kelvin Beachum. … The attendance was 83,518. … Jennings has seven career touchdown catches of at least 70 yards. Jerry Rice holds the NFL record with nine.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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