The Minnesota Vikings got their first win of the preseason on the night they used their starters the least, in a 24-23 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. Christian Ponder, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and others watched from the sideline, but Marcus Sherels returned the second-half kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown and McLeod Bethel-Thompson led an eight-play, 71-yard drive to set up Blair Walsh's deciding field goal with 1:38 left.
Minnesota finished the preseason 1-3.
Here's a rundown of the rest of the night:
In a short night of work, backup quarterback Matt Cassel looked as sharp as he has all preseason, directing an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive in his only action of the night. Cassel was 3-for-3 for 48 yards on the drive, connecting with Rodney Smith on a long pass and hitting John Carlson over the middle for 19 yards. Cassel finished his preseason 22-of-40 for 317 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Matt Asiata and Joe Banyard each helped themselves in their push for one of the Vikings' last roster spots, both scoring a touchdown. Asiata ran with purpose and physicality, carrying eight times for 32 yards and a 1-yard score, while Banyard played most of the second half and surpassed 100 all-purpose yards, posting 62 on the ground and another 54 through the air. If the Vikings are looking for a running back who could give them a change of pace, Banyard might find a spot on the roster. But let's not kid ourselves here: The Vikings aren't exactly in the market to give many carries to anyone other than Peterson, and with the reigning MVP on the roster, third-string running backs have to be able to do other things. That might be why Asiata sticks in the end; he has proven himself on special teams. The Vikings could try to stash Banyard on the practice squad, where he was last season.
Desmond Bishop probably had his best night of the preseason in his third game back from a torn hamstring, making seven tackles and pulling down two Titans players in the backfield on Tennessee's first drive. It's worth noting that Marvin Mitchell, who has started at weak-side linebacker all through training camp, didn't play on Thursday night, as the Vikings treated him more like a starter than a player who has much to prove. But Bishop might have done enough to guarantee himself a roster spot, at the very least.
While Sherels stole the show for the Vikings, Bobby Felder had a night he'd probably rather forget, spraining his ankle shortly after getting beat a 50-yard pass in the third quarter. X-rays on Felder's ankle were negative, but he probably would have liked to finish his preseason with a stronger impression after playing well early.
Fullback Zach Line, who didn't have to do much lead blocking in college, provided a nice example of it on the Vikings' drive for the go-ahead field goal. He and DeMarcus Love combined on a nice kick-out block on Banyard's 19-yard run. Line didn't show the pass-catching skills he'd displayed early, but he's probably done enough that the Vikings would at least consider using a practice-squad spot on him.
Speaking of Love, he had one of the odder moments of the game in the fourth quarter, when he caught a tipped pass, stretched the ball forward as he dove and got up to signal first down after getting the ball to the marker. Considering Love is set to serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, Thursday night could have been his last game with the Vikings.
Playing most of the game, Bethel-Thompson finished 19-of-26 for 187 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
The Vikings will make their final roster cuts before Saturday's deadline, and they open the regular season on Sept. 8 in Detroit.