Sign up to The American magazine's newsletters (below) to receive more regular news, articles and updates on America in the UK.
NFL London 2018: Eagles at Jaguars
The Attendance Record was broken, but did the game live up to the hype?
Words: Gary Jordan. Photos: Gary Baker
The third and final instalment of this seasons NFL International Series games in London, took place on an unprecedented third consecutive weekend. With the clocks gone back in the UK it meant an earlier kick off time locally, a 1.30pm start. The start of the day was reminiscent to the one a fortnight before but again the rain stopped, and the sun shone brightly down on the Gridiron faithful.
The quirky statistic of no London game being played between two teams with winning records continued. The Jacksonville Jaguars, London’s adopted home team, and the Philadelphia Eagles missed chances the previous week to take positives on their trip. With both now sitting with a 3-4 record and needing a win before the bye week, the game had added importance.
This was the Eagles first regular season visit to London, and the first of a current Super Bowl winning team. Something that didn’t go amiss with their fans as they were out in full force. Even with the Jaguars having a firm community here in the UK the balance of fans seemed to be in the favour of Philly. The thought that its just fans of the game from around the UK was put to one side as upon arrival at the stadium and walking up the famous Olympic Way, many different languages could be heard. Of course, the travelling fans from across the Atlantic were present, but also Germany, Belgium, France and other European nations were well represented.
The Jaguars now treat Wembley as their own when they come over. Their owner Shahid Khan’s well documented attempt at buying Wembley Stadium from the English Football Association was proof that he intends the foundations he has laid down in London were to stay well rooted. This of course may continue even without him owning the stadium, and as the fans cheered his team to open the scoring, capitalising on an Eagles turnover, he will no doubt be pondering if down the line he could back in and table another bid. If there’s one thing a crowd likes, it’s a hard hit or a turnover. They got both in the opening quarter. The hit on Carson Wentz led to a fumble, recovered by the Jags leading to the opening score, a field goal from 51 yards. Then with Philadelphia threatening to take the lead a spectacular diving interception stopped their momentum.
An otherwise uneventful first half ended with the Eagles taking their first lead of the game. After the teams exchanging field goals, Philadelphia took advantage of a short field to go 44 yards in 4 plays. Wentz found Dallas Goedert and saw his tight end evade would-be tacklers for a 32-yard touchdown. They carried this momentum into the second half and after forcing an early punt from the Jags, Wentz led his team downfield on a huge 95-yard scoring drive that ended when he hit Wendell Smallwood from 36 yards. The game was now beginning to feel one-sided at 17-6.
Games so often rely on momentum. The Eagles clearly had it, then lost it. Jacksonville had to get something going on offense and QB Blake Bortles, who wasn’t having the best of games, found the spark with a 9 play 75-yard drive that resulted in Dede Westbrook’s 11-yard catch. A failed two-point conversion attempt kept the Eagles a touchdown away, and as the third quarter ended the Jaguars were on the move again. They could only tack on 3 points as they stalled inside the red zone but having scored 9 unanswered points the game was now starting to simmer into a potential nail-biter. Any late dramatics seemed to have been snuffed out when Wentz threw his third touchdown pass of the day, this time a short toss to Zach Ertz - the lead now swelled to 24-15 it was hard to see Jacksonville rally back again.
This proved to be the case and even though Jacksonville added another field goal they couldn’t get any closer, and so the Eagles with their vociferous support gained their fourth win on the year, 24-18. Eagles QB Wentz was pleased to have come away with the win, “It’s huge. Being .500 [win-loss record], still not where we wanted to be or had hoped to be. Going into the bye week knowing the real meat of our schedule, the NFC East, is ahead of us when we come back from this bye, huge momentum and win for us heading into this.” The bye week was also on the Jaguars QB Bortles’ mind, but for differing reasons, “I’d love to keep playing, but I don’t know that its not a better thing if we do have a bye week, and we get a chance to get some guys back and get healthy. Guys can spend some time away, get with their families, kind of regroup, and we can get back and get ready for the second half of the season.”
The curtain falls on another set of London games, and for the second time this year the attendance record for an NFL game in London was broken. 85,870 is the new mark, and it will be hard to beat. The NFL treated us all again over the month of October, and as the announcement went over the PA system at the end of the game stated, “See you next year”