Twickenham hosted its first NFL game, and it’s hard to think of a worse advert for the sport and the league than the game the Giants and Rams put on. Still, as the game dragged it stayed close, and a close game will always lead to a nervy finish. That nervy finish showed the blue and red underbelly of London. Forget the Jaguars – the Giants are London’s team.
They didn’t necessarily need the crowd’s help to draw errors from Case Keenum, who finished the day with four interceptions, and the Rams offense. But on the final drive, with the Rams moving into Giants territory and a key fourth-and-five the crowd noise swelled to a level rarely heard in Twickenham outside of England-New Zealand games. While the day started off fairly evenly, with the Rams flags waving and their home team introductions, by the end it was clear that London is a home away from home for the Giants.
“Yea we started winning the crowd a little bit,” DE Olivier Vernon told us after the game. Guard Justin Pugh agreed: “It was awesome, it felt like a home game for us. That last possession they were going nuts.”
Nuts is right. A false start from both right guard Cody Wichmann and right tackle Rob Havenstein on that fourth down, thanks to the crowd noise, sent the Rams back to a 4th & 10. More noise caused them to use a timeout and then on the third time of trying they had to go to a silent count just to run a play.
For all the Giants shirts and manic fans willing to cheer a great game, what Los Angeles and New York served up was very disappointing. Both sides, as expected, struggled to run the ball – The Giants finished the day with just 1.8 yards per carry – which lead to a real lack of rhythm from both sides. The Rams did a better job, thanks to Todd Gurley breaking some ankles and slipping some tackles, but once again it was a display of poor football in London.
This was the 16th game since the NFL bought football back to the UK in 2007. A season of football has been played in London and, for the most part, it has been bad. The San Diego – New Orleans game in 2008 was a beautiful shootout that wowed the crowd, but as the UK audience has learned more and more, they have become far more discerning. The penalty-filled affair from the Jaguars and Colts, together with the 14 punts from this afternoon are no longer enough to keep a London crowd engaged.
That’s not to say that the UK fans only want points; the big hits, sacks and turnovers get cheered too, but nothing received louder responses than Landon Collins’ pick-six or Odell Beckham Jr’s catches.
The NFL is rumoured to send four games to London next year, and the fanbase is crying out for the Green Bay Packers or Seattle Seahawks to finally pay a visit to London and show them what football can be at its best. While there is no guarantee that sending one of them will lead to a great game (see the two Patriots blowouts in London or the form of the Packers this year), it is time that the NFL pulled their finger out and really prioritised putting on good games in the UK – especially when you consider the dipping TV ratings domestically and the 500 million European population waiting to be tapped.
For the Rams it was a disappointing ending. They jumped out to a 10-point lead early on thanks to a fumble from the Giants on the second play, but they had trouble consistently moving the ball the whole day. The receiving corps, which came in for some harsh words from head coach Jeff Fisher after the game, struggled to create consistent separation and when they did, they ended up tipping the ball to Giants players. Landon Collins’ unbelievable, incredible touchdown return came from an in-cut that went through Tavon Austin’s hands, off his facemask and into Collins’ arms.
“We’re a team, and it sucks that we fell short” wide receiver Brian Quick told us. The result bought up inevitable questions about the Rams quarterback position, but Fisher was calm and decisive in his answers. “Jared’s going to play when we feel Jared’s ready […] I’ll make changes at receiver before I make a change at quarterback.” Some might see that as damning towards Jared Goff, especially when other rookie quarterbacks are playing and playing well, but it’s a very honest assessment of today’s game. Before the first Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie interception Brian Quick adjusted very poorly to a post pattern, and when the Rams ran it again on the next play DRC was ready and waiting, the Landon Collins touchdown came on a pass that bounced off Tavon Austin’s helmet.
The Rams defense played well, giving the Giants offensive line all it could handle. Alec Ogletree and TJ McDonald flew around the field breaking up passes and putting down ball carriers but on offense the Rams were stuck, a team that could move inconsistently and couldn’t make big plays consistently. “We can’t wait for the defense to save us,” Rodger Saffold admitted to us. They look like a team that needs more than just a change at receiver.
As for the victorious Giants, they were just happy to come to London and get the win. “I’m proud of the way we fought and came back and got the win,” Pugh told us. It was a win that keeps them within striking distance of the Dallas Cowboys, and that sets them up nicely for a bye week and a stretch of three home games in a row. It wasn’t pretty, with some big plays by Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham, and some bad ones as well. Both Eli Manning and Pugh told us of how well their week of preparation went; while it didn’t show early, with a disappointingly slow start once again, it paid off in a rabid defense that got after Keenum all day in the classic Steve Spagnuolo way with just the front four. Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison kept up constant pressure and never let Keenum get settled, while Collins and a bevy of linebackers kept a close watch on Todd Gurley.
Both sides come away with a lot to work on over their bye week, and both will be disappointed with their overall performances, but importantly for the NFL, perhaps no one is leaving Twickenham more disappointed, once again, than the paying fans.
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