We made it! After a year of being forced to watch our favourite American sport on Sky and Gamepass (or other more illegitimate sources (The Inside Zone does not condone the viewing of unauthorized streams)), we’re finally able to enjoy a trio of live, NFL games from the comfort of our own national stadium! The London Games series is back, and we have 3 pretty compelling games to watch over the next 3 weeks. As such, we thought it’d be a good time to take a look back at the history of the NFL London Games series, with some choice moments from the last 11 years. Watch in awe as The Inside Zone threatens to become “Buzzfeed NFL”! These are our Top 5 biggest moments in NFL London Games history! In chronological order, before you ask.
The Kick Off
The most important moment in the history of the series is the moment it all began; October 27th 2007. After the collapse of NFL Europa, plans were made to bring a regular season game to Europe. Wembley Stadium was still the newest jewel in the stadia crown, and was selected to host a tie between the Miami Dolphins, and the New York Giants.
Take a look at any thread of comments on the NFL’s Facebook page when they announce anything international-wise, and you’ll see a slew of backlash. The idea of regular season NFL games being played outside of America is not something Americans like. The push back to a London Game was strong, but the ticket sales were stronger. Over 81000 fans flocked to the nation’s capital to witness a 13-10 victory for the New York Giants. Eli Manning managed less than 60 passing yards total, but scampered into the endzone late in the second half to become the first player to score a Touchdown at Wembley Stadium. While the Dolphins attempted to rally late, the Giants held firm to take the win.
The game won’t be remembered for the *game*, but what the game represented; a new era for the international focus of the league, and a chance for fans in Europe to get closer to their team than ever before. We’re glad they took the risk.
The Field Goal
Since that fateful day the NFL continued to show faith in the English market, and that faith was continuously rewarded. 6 straight seasons of a single game at Wembley became two games in 2013, and then three in 2014. Sandwiched between Dolphins @ Raiders and Cowboys @ Jaguars was Lions @ Falcons, on October 26th.
Regular readers of the site will be all too aware I’m a Falcons fan, so this was the game I had been waiting for. But more importantly for the games in London, the Falcons/Lions game was a 1.30pm kick off; a first for the series. The “Sunday Lunchtime” kick off has become the new norm since its inception.
Everything that happened in this game was rendered almost irrelevant by the final 2 minutes. Still, the Falcons jumped to a 21-0 lead in the first half, before squandering it away in the second. Matt Ryan could barely complete a pass in the second half. He genuinely threw one of the worst interceptions I’ve ever seen in the process. Matt Stafford and his Calvin Johnson-less offense made light work of Mike Smith’s erratic defence in the second half. With only seconds on the clock, Stafford managed to set up a 43 yard field goal attempt to win the game. Matt Prater steps up…the snap…the hold…the kick…IT’S WIDE! Falcons win! Falcons WIN! In spite of themselves, they’ve won it! Let’s get pis-THERE’S A FLAG?!? WHAT FOR?!?
The Detroit Lions were flagged for a delay of game. Despite winning the game, a penalty intended to be in the Falcons favour ended up giving the Detroit Lions a second chance. 5 yards further back…you know how this ends. Just about every game until this point had been heavily skewed in one teams favour. The Lions/Falcons game was the first time the London crowd was treated to a last second winning score.
In 2012, the NFL announced the St. Louis Rams would play one of their 8 home games per year at Wembley Stadium for the next few years. The Rams were in a long standing battle with the city of St. Louis over wanting a new stadium, and hoped by removing themselves for one week a year would lead to more funding. Unfortunately, neither funding nor the “one game per year” would materialise.
Fortunately, having been involved in long negotiations to take over Fulham Football Club, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan was more than willing to take on the deal. From that point forward, from 2013 until at least 2020, the Jacksonville Jaguars have become known colloquially as, the London Jaguars.
Unfortunately, things didn’t start well for the London Jaguars. 42-10 and 31-17 losses to the 49ers and Cowboys respectively meant London’s team were in danger of becoming London’s losers. In 2015, a match up with the Buffalo Bills gave the hapless Jags a third chance to get a win in London, and truly cement themselves as London’s team.
A quiet first quarter, that saw the Bills lead 3-0, exploded in the second. 2 defensive touchdowns, a TJ Yeldon rushing touchdown, and a Blake Bortles bullet to Allen Robinson put 27 points on the board for the Jaguars, while EJ Manuel connected with Robert Woods to keep it relatively tight. And then, disaster. In the fourth, Bortles threw a late pick-six to, putting the Jags first London win at risk. With only five minutes on the clock, Blake Bortles made up for his error, putting together a 7-play, 84-yard drive, culminating with a rifle to Allen Hurns with little over 2 minutes left. Scenes.
The Pick Six
The 2016 London Games were a step forward for a couple of reasons. For one, it was the start of the “relocation rule”. For teams in the process of relocating to a new city, a game overseas would be required once a year. Secondly, we were treated to a brand new part of London to travel to. Twickenham Stadium, the home of English Rugby, had been announced as a second ground in NFL UK’s arsenal. Twickenham would be available for at least 3 games between 2016 and 2018.
The recently relocated Los Angeles Rams were up first, hosting the New York Giants. The game itself was nothing to write home about. The Los Angeles Rams jumped to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to some competent quarterback play from Case Keenum, and a rare Tavon Austin touchdown. Unfortunately, that would be all Jeff Fisher’s Rams would muster, going pointless from then on. For the Ben McAdoo’s Giants, a field goal at the start of the second would get them on the board.
The games excitement hit its peak, when Tavon Austin remembered he was Tayvon Austin, and forgot how to catch on the Rams 40. The ball bounced right off the oft-maligned reciever’s hands of stone, and into the welcoming arms of Landon Collins. Collins span through hapless Rams players to the endzone.
From then on it was a tale of two appalling offenses battling to keep their respective defence as fresh as possible. Keenum managed a further 3 interceptions as the game wore on, including a game-ending launch to no one with 50 seconds of the game left. The Giants took the first Twickenham win, as they did at Wembley, with a short rushing touchdown. 17-10. Bad game, but we’ll always have that pick-six.
American Sports are weird when it comes to draws, or ties. As we’ve seen even this season, many coaches would sooner take a loss than a tie. A tie at the end of the 4 quarters will trigger an additional quarter of play. Games ending as a tie are a stark rarity, but we got one in the final game of the 2016 London series.
The Cincinnati Bengals “hosted” Washington, in what looked the most intriguing of the three games. Andy Dalton and AJ Green vs Kirk Cousins and DeSean Jackson, and a pair of pretty decent defences to boot. Should be a nice game.
And it was, Cousins and Dalton showed off every bit of the poise and precision they’ve become known for over the course of their careers so far; we even saw Tyler Eifert become the first NFL player to catch a touchdown in both Ireland and England.
The story of the game was told by the special teams, specifically the kickers. Aside from a few extra points and field goals, neither Dustin Hopkins, nor Mike Nugent, could make the kick needed to win the game. Although Hopkins managed a short kick at the end of regulation to tie the game for his Redskins, his kicking ability disappeared deep into overtime.
Cousins and his men drove downfield to set up a game winning field goal from just over 30 yards…only for Hopkins to shank it wide left. Washington would be given another shot at victory. A Dalton fumble on a QB sneak gave them the ball, though they would be unable to advance downfield. 27-27, final score.
What does the future hold?
It’s impossible to name all the huge moments that we’ve been lucky to see over the course of the London games. I hope I’ve been broad enough in my strokes to hit the best. If I haven’t, please let me know (JAGURAS aside). And here’s hoping 2018’s edition brings us at another handful of moments.