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The fourth and final installment of this years London games is in the books, and it may not have been the close game that many anticipated but it still served up some play that could serve as good notice for how the rest of the season pans out for both teams.
This was the 28th National Football League game to be played in London, and as the curtain falls for this season its well worth remembering once more how far the game has come in just a little over a decade. The fact that London now has a fully functioning NFL Stadium of its own, well at least heavily invested into, was not even a pipe dream when the rain fell heavily on the New York Giants win over the Miami Dolphins in 2007. The rain came again on what was just the third game to be played In November during the 12 years but failed to dampen spirits of the fans. Those that have stayed loyal in those dozen years, and the new fans that grow in numbers every year, will no doubt be looking ahead to next year already. And for every fan that may drop out of attending there will be other lucky fans waiting to fill that gap.
With the games now being multiple from the original one in the first six years of London play, fans can pick and choose the games they want to attend. This of course means more will different fans will see the games live in the stadiums. The season ticket option is still there, although the NFLUK offices will want to find a way to ease the issues that some had with this year. The games do still sell out remarkably quick, and nearly 290,000 were in attendance for the four games this past month, the average a little down as the Tottenham Stadium has a smaller capacity than Wembley by some 24,000.
It was the first time the Houston Texans had visited these shores, and some had them at a disadvantage against their opponent Jacksonville Jaguars, who of course have been marketed as London’s team, although that moniker may not be strictly true as a matter of fact. Give the Jaguars their dues though, they have created a large fan base here and it will be interesting to see what move owner Shahid Khan will make when the current deal to play his team’s games exclusively AT Wembley ends. Any “home field” advantage that the Florida side wasn’t in evidence on this day though as the Texans ran out comfortable 26-3 winners.
In the build up there was much talk of how Gardner Minshew, the Jaguars QB, would handle the growing pressure that is surrounding his outstanding play so far this year. As a rookie he has stepped up incredibly after first choice Nick Foles went down in the opening game. Unfortunately, his never gained any rhythm and suffered multiple turnovers in the game, mostly due to forcing the play as he was trying to lead a comeback. His opposite number Deshaun Watson did show why he is now maturing into one of the best at the position. Great poise under pressure and directing his offense down the field time and again. Ably assisted by a strong run game which saw Carlos Hyde sprint his way to a 160-yard performance, the result wasn’t in doubt after Duke Johnson plundered in from a yard out to put Houston up 19-3 late in the third quarter.
“They’re doing a heck of a job running the ball and continuing to help this offense do what we want to do.” Watson said of his on-fire backfield duo. “We feel like were a contender every week, everyone’s going to get our best, and just take it one week at a time and that’s pretty much it.” he continued when asked if the Texans can be in Super Bowl contention. There is a long way to go in the season, but this divisional win going into a bye week was huge. Houston are on the up in the AFC South but will have to get by Indianapolis who now look to be the only threat between them and winning the division. The Jaguars now have a steep climb if they are to make the postseason, and coach Doug Marrone has to build Minshew back up or face a tough decision in what to do for the best at the quarterback position, “I’m going to step away a little bit, take a break because don’t have to make a decision and have time. That’s what I’m going to talk to the quarterbacks about, and then I’ll tell them probably right before we come back on Sunday. That’s pretty much my plan.”