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NFL London 2018: Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers
Aggressive plays in London, but would Titans head coach Mike Vrabel call that last play any different? Read The American's analysis of Wembley Game 2.
Words: Gary Jordan. Photos: Gary Baker
The second of the 2018 NFL International Series games at Wembley Stadium took place on a bright London afternoon. The Los Angeles Chargers (formerly San Diego on their previous visit back in 2008 when they played just the second game of this annual event) were the home team against the Tennessee Titans, who were making their first visit to these shores.
The now usual mix of NFL team jerseys were clearly visible around the approach areas to the stadium, but with a light blue being most prominent. Both teams now favour a powder blue colour scheme so it was difficult to determine which team had the most support on the day but looking closer it did seem quite equal.
The tailgate areas in front of the stadium have been reduced somewhat over the last decade, especially over the last five years. Most of the large car parks that had the heady mix of all the various foods and beverages you can imagine is now built upon, big apartment blocks now taking up the space that was the main meeting place for fans so the atmosphere has been lost in some part. However the growth of the game and the knowledge of the fans has gone to the next level so a full support act is no longer needed to attract fans to the games.
By the time the pregame entertainment and National anthems were sung the sun had dipped sufficiently behind the west stand so that the field was mostly in shadow. The Chargers kicked off and despite a promising drive, on which the Titans converted on two big third downs, they had to settle for a field goal. Then all of Wembley was on its feet as from their first offensive play the Chargers scored on a 75-yard pass, QB Philip Rivers throwing a deep pass down the left side-line for WR Tyrell Williams to haul in and race away untouched. A nine second drive and a breathtaking start.
The contrast in the two teams was evident during the rest of the first quarter. Tennessee were happy to try and dink and dunk their way to first downs, whereas the Chargers posed a threat with big plays. After that first big touchdown though, the game steadied and at the end of the first period the score was 10-3 in Los Angeles' favour. The dink and dunk approach was starting to pay off. Titans QB Marcus Mariota, now in his fourth season, led his team down the field on a drive that lasted over nine minutes. Then he threw his first career red zone interception which undid all the good work. The half time score was 10-6 in favour of the ‘home' team.
Just as effective as dink and dunk is the knockout, explosive big play threat that the Chargers have and again after just three plays they were in the end zone courtesy of Philip Rivers' 55-yard toss to WR Mike Williams, this time on the right-hand side. The Titans hadn't scored a touchdown in ten quarters of play and to get back into this one they needed to play LA at their own game. So, a quick 7 play drive ended with running back Derrick Henry running in untouched from a yard out. The rest of the third quarter was cagier as both teams traded punts, looking for that edge in field position.
One constant with the NFL is that no matter what type of game you're watching they always manage to entertain you. Whether it's the Party Patrol (with the tee-shirt firing, backflipping on stilts, and large fish eye camera ball bouncing around the crowd) to the always amusing kiss or dance cam on the big video screens. This is what makes the NFL such a big crowd pleaser. Blowout games need this welcome distraction, but on this day, it was just something extra as the game entered the final period of play with just four points separating the teams.
The game was now finely poised, the Chargers adding three more points after a six-minute drive, and with a little over 12 minutes to go in the game they led 20-13. The Titans couldn't respond when wide receiver Corey Davis dropped a somewhat easy catch on 3rd&7, followed by Ryan Succop missing a 51-yard field goal attempt. With under five minutes to go the Titans had another chance to tie the game up after holding the Chargers to another punt. They needed to go 70 yards and when Dion Lewis rumbled through the middle for a huge 36-yard run the Titans were suddenly within striking distance. Mariota found Luke Stocker in the end zone from a yard out and then the real fun started. A premeditated call from head coach Mike Vrabel meant the Titans offense stayed on the field and went for a two-point conversion to win the game. The play was called back for a defensive penalty, and when they went for it again Mariota's pass was deflected away to seal a 20-19 win and a fourth straight victory for the Los Angeles Chargers.
It was a gutsy call that had the Wembley crowd buzzing louder than they'd been all game. Would Vrabel do things differently if he had the chance again? "When that drive started I thought in my mind if we scored, when we scored, if there was less than 40 seconds we were going for two and we were going to win the game. If there was a minute and 30 we were going to kick the extra point and go play defense. And so, I can't – I'm not going to second guess the call. Just didn't work out." Titan QB Mariota was happy that his coach had faith, "I love that he has confidence in us to make that. We just didn't execute. There's definitely more I wish I could have done. With that being said they did a good job of covering and making the play."
Los Angeles are now starting to look like the preseason favourites to make a deep run in the playoffs. Philip Rivers was named the game's MVP. He said, "That's as excited as I've seen a locker room postgame in a while. Now we get time to rest up. We’ve been talking about getting to 5-2 now for three or four weeks, and now we're here."