London’s love affair with the NFL grew ever stronger as Adrian Peterson lit up Wembley to lead the Minnesota Vikings to a thrilling 34-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The reigning Most Valuable Player scored two touchdowns and ran for 140 yards as the Vikings prevailed in an enthralling contest between two teams who had yet to record a win this season.
Pittsburgh’s quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who led them to victory in the 2008 Super Bowl, did his best to keep the Steelers in it, throwing for 383 yards and a touchdown, and a last-ditch drive had them within six yards of the end zone with 22 seconds left, but Everson Griffin sacked him to secure the Vikings’ victory.
That highlighted the offensive line struggles which dogged Pittsburgh all night – and all season to date – which left them behind on the scoreboard from early in the match.
Instead, the night belonged to the Vikings and their veteran quarterback Matt Cassel, released by the Kansas City Chiefs during the off-season and thrust into a starting role here in place of injury-hit Christian Ponder. Cassel completed 16 of 25 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
The night also belonged to the NFL itself as they boasted a sell-out crowd of 83,519, and with next month’s meeting of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Francisco 49ers nearing capacity too, perhaps bringing closer the dream of a London franchise.
The Jaguars-49ers contest will be the first of four ‘home’ games for Jacksonville over the next four years, but last night was the Vikings’ turn to paint Wembley purple.
Cassel’s 70-yard pass to Greg Jennings powered Minnesota into an early 10-0 lead and although Pittsburgh’s rookie running back Le’Veon Bell replied with his first career touchdown, the first Peterson score of the night quickly put the Vikings back in control.
It came almost from nowhere as the 28-year-old broke three tackles on a 60-yard charge to the end zone at the start of the second quarter –highlighting the all too apparent problems in a Steelers defence so long the cornerstone of the most successful team in the NFL’s Super Bowl era. Roethlisberger was fighting a lone battle to keep Pittsburgh in the game as he came under unrelenting pressure, but they had to settle for a field goal on their next drive and trailed 20-10 at half-time.
Bell’s second touchdown after a big pass interference call against Josh Robinson gave them hope in the third quarter, but Minnesota’s response was emphatic.
Peterson blew through the Pittsburgh defence to score from seven yards with almost embarrassing ease, and moments later they capitalised on a Roethlisberger interception to make it 34-17 as Cassel connected with Jennings from 17 yards. Pittsburgh kept fighting but their desperate rally fell short at the death.