Jacksonville Jaguars vs Indianapolis Colts
"You can't win the game in the first quarter, you can't win it in the second or the third. You have to win it in the fourth. And that's what took place." Stated Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley after his team did enough to get by the Indianapolis Colts 30-27 at London's Wembley Stadium in the first of this year's three International Series games.
It was a true enough account of the game as it some aspects it mirrored their first win in London a year ago. A fast start with some good quality play, which the opposition started to echo to ease themselves back into contention, only for Jacksonville to strike a killer blow at the end. There can be no doubt that the side-line who needed the win most (or should that be the coach who needed it more) was the Jaguars. Coming across the Atlantic with a 0-3 record wasn't ideal, and going back winless could have resulted in another case of the Wembley curse being handed out. Coaches have been in similar positions before and not survived the flight home. The importance of the win wasn't lost on the team's quarterback Blake Bortles, "We think every victory is important. Obviously the situation and the circumstances of this one is big, it's good. We're excited about it."
Dropping to 1-3 though isn't good in an AFC South division that generally is tight to the end, the Colts have that problem and somehow need to turn the tide of their season quickly. Andrew Luck was openly critical about his own and teams play but did have some fighting words after as well, "We've got really good football players in that locker room. Really good coaches. A great culture. And we'll be alright. This does not feel good and it shouldn't. We lost."
Through good balanced offensive play, and some tenacious defense, the Jaguars were ahead 23-6 going into the last period. The Colts though were not going to leave the United Kingdom without giving their fans something to cheer about and two quick scores got them within 3 points. That's when the Jaguars normally feel the pressure and fold but not this time. Bortles found a favourite target in Allen Hurns who weaved his way through the Colts D to extend the lead to 10. Phillip Dorsett then answered back with a 64 yard catch and run. The Jaguars then did enough to run out the clock to gain that precious first win.
This was the fifteenth game to be held in London, not all have been exciting or close, and indeed just a handful could be looked upon that way. This does not reflect on those in attendance enthusiasm. Once more the crowds showed up in numbers. The stadium was close to capacity and just above the London gate average. The pregame culture of tailgating will never be the same as it is in the States, largely due to the layout of the Stadium, but with the now usual fare of beer, hotdogs, and grilled pork (other meats are available) on offer it does its best to recreate that occasion.
Contract extensions have been signed for Wembley to host more games, and with a three year deal to play games at Twickenham Stadium, and a ten year handshake to play at the new Tottenham Hotspurs stadium from 2018, anyone who thinks that this is just a passing fad that will burn out is truly mistaken. The new Spurs stadium is one that is purpose built to host NFL games, their Chairman Daniel Levy is very excited about the project. Such is the capability of changing the surface from grass to artificial within two hours, he even threw in the idea of hosting both a Premier League soccer match and an NFL game on the same day. "If it ever got to a stage where the NFL decided it wanted to have a permanent team in London, this stadium could literally be – whatever the team was – their stadium as opposed to an NFL team feeling they're renting Tottenham's stadium."
For now though fans still arrive very early, a few on site five hours before kick-off, some are regulars, others newcomers, just wanting to get a flavour of what they've been told about or seen on television. Jersey colours of all NFL teams were on show – yes, even the Browns! – this is what makes the sport quite unique here. No one is judged, no one is left out. It's the football community that shines through. With two more games to come by the end of the month, including a first trip to Twickenham there will be lots more opportunities for the NFL to showcase itself to the UK masses, faithful or uneducated, all are made welcome.
After all, where else in Britain will you see someone dressed with full Redskins headdress on, or with a foam cheese grater on their head? Only in the NFL in London.