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Vikings get bad news: Browns are alive

There is life left in the Cleveland Browns after all and the Minnesota Vikings found out the hard way.

The Browns heard all week talk of tanking, throwing in the towel and have nothing for which to play for, notions they shot down in a four-quarter tug of war with the Vikings.

“It went in one ear and out the other,” Browns linebacker Craig Robertson said of the white-flag talk. “You have to be professional about it.”

Next Sunday: Minnesota vs. Pittsburgh at London; Noon (CBS)

Winless and suddenly without running back Trent Richardson, traded to Indianapolis by a team looking to the future. Their starting quarterback was injured, and third-stringer Brian Hoyer was about to make just his second NFL start, on the road.

In a battle between winless teams, the Browns (1-2) marched 55 yards for the winning score, a 7-yard pass from Hoyer to tight end Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds left to give Cleveland a 31-27 victory over the Vikings at Mall of America Field.

Meanwhile, embattled Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, under pressure much of the game, completed 25 of 42 passes for 228 yards and ran for 46 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked six times, lost a fumble and threw an interception in front of a home crowd that booed him much of the game.

Running back Adrian Peterson was held to just 88 yards on 25 carries.

For Cleveland, Hoyer shook off a shaky third quarter that included two of his three interceptions to complete 30 of 54 passes for three touchdowns. He connected with receiver Josh Gordon 10 times for 146 yards and a score. Cameron caught three touchdowns, including one from punter/holder Spencer Lanning on a fake field goal attempt from 11 yards out late in the second quarter to give Cleveland a 24-14 lead.

The Browns, left for dead by just about everyone all week, showed inspiration and innovation. A 34-yard run on a fake punt set up a second-quarter field goal.

“I had no doubt about these guys,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “They’re true professionals and they got the hearts of lions. I’ll never doubt these guys in the locker room.”

For the Vikings (0-3), they head to London having allowed game-losing drives, in the final minute of play, for the second straight week.

“The explanation is that our two-minute drill is terrible right now,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “I’m not going to stand here and sugarcoat it for you guys. We gave them the touchdown.”

The game was tied at 14 when the Browns used the fake punt to set up a field goal. Two plays into the Vikings’ ensuing possession, Ponder was intercepted by Browns safety T.J. Ward, who returned the ball to the Minnesota 38. Six plays later, on fourth-and 4 from the 11, the fake field goal attempt gave the Browns a 10-point lead.

The Vikings were forced to punt, but Travis Benjamin muffed it, giving the Vikings the ball. Thinking it was a fumble, Frazier threw the challenge flag on what turned out to be a play that couldn’t be challenged. The officiating crew, in an acknowledged mistake, doled out a 15-yard penalty, pushing the Vikings from a first-and-10 from the 26 to a first-and-25 on the 41. The Vikings managed a field goal to pull within 24-17 at the half.

It was the first three of 13 straight Vikings points. Minnesota turned Erin Henderson’s interception into a nine-play TD drive that ended with Ponder’s 8-yard run to tie the game late in the third quarter.

After a Cleveland punt, Ponder drove the team 60 yards for Blair Walsh’s 30-yard field goal and a 27-24 lead with 10:47 left in the game.

The two teams traded punts until the Browns got the ball at their 45 with 3:21 left. Hoyer completed 6 of 11 passes on the ensuing drive, converting on third down twice, including the game-winning score.

Notes, quotes

-LB Michael Mauti made his NFL debut. Active for the first time, Mauti — a seventh-round pick in April — was a backup linebacker and special teams player.

-DT Letroy Guion was used as a lead-blocker for the first time on Adrian Peterson’s 2-yard TD run in the first quarter.

-RB Adrian Peterson lost a fumble for the second straight week.

Quote to note

“It is frustrating. I do not think any team thinks they will come into the season and be 0-3. I especially did not think it, but yet here we sit, scratching our heads at why we’re 0-3. Bottom line is we have to figure it out and win next week.” - Vikings defensive end Brian Robison, who had a sack and two tackles for loss.

Strategy and personnel

The Vikings’ lack of depth at defensive back. After losing starting safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerback Chris Cook, the Vikings were picked apart by Brian Hoyer, who was making just his second career NFL start. Hoyer passed for 321 yards, and was 60-for-11 for 55 yards on the game-winning touchdown drive.

The Vikings’ offensive line — which returned intact from last season — continues to struggle. Quarterback Christian Ponder was sacked six times, harassed on countless other plays and running back Adrian Peterson had no room to run. Of the Vikings’ 134 rushing yards, Ponder had 46 of them, many on scrambles avoiding pressure.