Pockets picked

Three times the Minnesota Vikings were ready to take the lead and possibly put away the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Vikings 17 at Steelers 27

Three times the Minnesota Vikings were ready to take the lead and possibly put away the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Even for Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson, three times weren’t nearly enough to remain perfect against a defence that not only outplayed the Vikings but outscored them.

LaMarr Woodley returned Favre’s fumble 77 yards for a touchdown and Keyaron Fox ran back an interception 82 yards for another score during the closing minutes, and the Steelers turned three major defensive stands into a 27-17 victory Sunday to hand the Vikings their first loss.

Two goal-line stands helped turned the anticipated quarterback showdown between Favre and Ben Roethlisberger into a defensive duel. And the Super Bowl champion Steelers (5-2) are tough to beat in any game that’s decided by defence. The Vikings (6-1) had a first down inside the Steelers’ one-yard line during the third quarter but settled for a field goal.

Woodley’s return, with the linebacker huffing and puffing for the final 30 yards, was reminiscent of James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl against Arizona. The touchdown put the Steelers up 20-10 with 6:23 remaining, after the Vikings drove to the Steelers’ eight and were in position to take their first lead since Peterson’s two-yard touchdown run put them up 7-3 in the second quarter.

Defensive end Brett Keisel stripped Favre of the ball as he dropped back to pass, and Woodley scooped it up to give the Steelers a seemingly secure lead. But Percy Harvin immediately came back with an 88-yard kickoff return touchdown, the second such score allowed by Pittsburgh in two games.

That gave Favre a chance to pull it out, and few quarterbacks have been as good as Favre at turning defeats into victories. The 40-year-old Favre, who had twice led the Vikings to last-gasp victories this season, couldn’t pull this one out.

With Favre hitting Peterson on a 29-yard pass play, the Vikings drove to the Steelers 18 with just over a minute remaining, and their biggest victory of an improbably good season awaited. But Fox stepped in front of Favre’s pass intended for Chester Taylor and returned it nearly the length of the field, with nearly every Viking except Favre in pursuit.

All Favre could do was shake his head in disbelief at missing not one, not two, but three chances to win.

The return scores were big enough, but the Steelers’ best defensive stand came when they kept the momentum and the lead at 13-10 after Minnesota had a first down inside the one-yard line in the third quarter.

49ers 21 at Texans 24

At Houston, Steve Slaton scored two touchdowns and the Texans built a big lead then held on for the win.

Patriots 35 at

Buccaneers 7

At Wembley, England, Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and had more than 300 yards as the Patriots beat the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium in the NFL’s third regular-season game at the iconic London venue.

Packers 31 at Browns 3

Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, Ryan Grant rushed for 148 yards and Green Bay warmed up for Brett Favre’s first visit back to Lambeau Field next week with a laugher against the Browns, who got over the flu but can’t shake other problems.

Chargers 37 at Chiefs 7

Philip Rivers threw three touchdowns passes as the San Diego Chargers won their third in a row in Kansas City for the first time since 1981.

Colts 42 at Rams 6

Peyton Manning was 23-for-34 for 235 yards, and the Indianapolis defence got its first score of the year on rookie Jacob Lacey’s 35-yard interception return in a one-sided win over the Rams.

Saints 46 at Dolphins 34

The unbeaten Saints overcame an early 21-point deficit, mounting touchdown drives of 82, 79 and 60 yards on successive possessions in the second half to overtake the Dolphins.

Falcons 21 at Cowboys 37

Tony Romo returned to his swashbuckling style, keeping drives alive by improvising and turning one near-disaster into a touchdown, and Miles Austin proved his breakout game was no fluke by coming up with big play after big play.

Bears 10 at Bengals 45

Carson Palmer threw five touchdown passes — four of them in a dominant first half — and Cedric Benson ran for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown against the team that let him go.

Bills 20 at Panthers 9

Jairus Byrd had two more interceptions, Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t make a big mistake in his first start at quarterback and the Bills took advantage of Carolina’s miscues.

Jets 38 at Raiders 0

Mark Sanchez shook off the worst start of his young career by running for one touchdown and throwing for another, and fellow rookie Shonn Greene ran for 144 yards and two scores as the Jets halted a three-game losing streak.

Cardinals 24 at Giants 17

Arizona erased some bad memories in its last regular-season visit to Giants Stadium, forcing four turnovers and bewildering Eli Manning with its blitzes in a victory.

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