THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
The first of this year's National Football League games took place this past Sunday, October 10, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with the Atlanta Falcons hosting the New York Jets. Both teams came into the game with identical 1-3 records, and both clearly needed a win before they flew back to the States and into their bye weeks, as is the tradition with teams playing in London.
Like every time the NFL comes to town, the stadium was sold-out, and those in attendance were in full voice. After missing out last season due to the pandemic they had good reason to be loud. This was not just a crowd of Falcons and Jets fans, but legions of NFL followers that had been starved of seeing their sport played here for two long years. That said, there was an even mix of fans of the two participating teams. After the pageantry of the National Anthems and a flyover by four F-15 Eagle Strike Fighter jets, it was time for the game to begin.
Atlanta received the opening kickoff and scored an early field goal when they took advantage of a roughing the passer penalty to continue their drive. The Jets, with rookie sensation Zach Wilson at quarterback, couldn’t respond and were quickly off the field after failing to get a first down with their opening series. This set the tone for the rest of the first quarter, with the Falcons able to move the ball too easily on the Jets, and when Tight End Kyle Pitts snagged a 2-yard pass from Matt Ryan after a 10-play drive, it was 10-0 and the Jets were in a hole already. They couldn’t climb out of it when, again, they couldn’t gain a first down on their next series. Falcons TE Hayden Hurst added to their woes when he hauled in another Ryan touchdown pass early in the second period of play, to make it 17-0 after a fast 8 play drive. By this point Atlanta had gained 196 yards to the Jets 16. “I was just talking to the team about that.” Jets Head Coach said after the game when asked about the team's slow starts to games this season. “I'm going to work my tail off over this bye week and see if there's something that we can come up with. Study the tape. Look at all the decisions and execution and figure out what the answer is over this next week and come up with something, because it's got to be better.”
It was as one sided as you could get. Then Wilson threw an errant pass which was intercepted but was relieved to see the Falcons have a turnover of their own straight after, Hurst fumbling the ball after a strong hit. New York finally gained a first down, with nine minutes left in the half, and eventually managed to get on the scoreboard too, albeit a field goal with just over two minutes to go before halftime. This did leave enough time for Matt Ryan to take his team down the field to notch up another field goal attempt. A 52-yard kick was good by Younghoe Koo, and the lead was now 20-3 as the half ended.
The last time Atlanta played in London they held a 20-0 lead against Detroit Lions at halftime, but lost the game 20-21, so they had to guard against another comeback. A strong kick return gave the Jets a short field to work from and they scored when Ty Johnson ran in, but the subsequent point attempt hit the upright. The pace slowed somewhat as the third quarter ticked along, then the Falcons went on a long drive that took some time off the clock, but they had another fumble which stopped them in their tracks. This gave the Jets some hope but their failure to capitalise meant that they had to punt the ball away, and the third quarter came to an end with Atlanta holding a 20-9 advantage. With under ten minutes left the Jets woke up and went on a drive that ended with Michael Carter waltzing in for a short score. Having missed the extra point earlier they elected to go for two, and Wilson’s pass was complete to Jamison Crowder. The deficit was now just three points with 6.55 to go. There was to be no dramatic finish though, as the Falcons marched methodically down the field to score their first points of the second half, Mike Davis rumbling in from two yards out to extend their lead to 10 points. New York, to their credit, weren’t quite done and they added another field goal and had an onside kick attempt with just 17 seconds left, but this was safely fielded by the Falcons and the game ended.
The 27-20 final score was flattering for the Jets. “We have to figure out after this bye week we have to come out and start better. I think that's the message all the way around. I know the defense is beating themselves up as well.” Said Jets quarterback Zach Wilson in a sombre press conference. In the opposite team's press call the game's standout player Kyle Pitts was planning where he would put the ball from his first career touchdown: “Probably go in my basement, in a case.” Then he explained how that opener came about, “It was just a play. I was manned up at the end. I have been waiting on that all week. Like I said, man-on-man, I made the play.” Falcons’ safety Jaylinn Hawkins helped the Atlanta defense early in the game, but also revelled in the London atmosphere, “15 out of 10. The stadium was crazy. I walked in, I was like, Whoa. Didn't even expect it to be that big, that many fans, man. The crowd was just great. The opening ceremony was great. Everything was just like very dope. Probably one of the best stadiums I played in besides the home stadium, our crib, the Falcons stadium. It was an awesome stadium, great experience, great experience.”
The last comment was echoed by much of the record attendance for a game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, 60,589, and we get to do it all again next weekend when the Miami Dolphins clash with the Jacksonville Jaguars. This won’t be one for the purists as both have struggled in the early part of the season, and the Jags are on a 20-game losing streak, the third longest in NFL history. Both teams are well supported here in the UK so it should be a loud crowd, and hopefully a game full of drama and talking points.