In the week prior to the crazy NFL carnival returning to Wembley Stadium for a fifth year, NFL week 6 gave us a not-so-subtle reminder, (as if it were needed) of why sports fans here in the UK are so insistent that more gridiron action is brought across the pond. The most highly anticipated battle this week featured the undefeated Detroit Lions hosting this year’s surprise package the San Francisco 49ers, in a battle no-one foresaw pre-season, as being close to this significant.
The day belonged to the 49ers, as the powerful running of Frank Gore and a stingy run defence handed the Lions a 25-19 loss to open up ground atop the NFC West division.
The game could have ended very differently, as Detroit were able to execute long drives into San Francisco territory, but were forced to settle for three points from the boot of kicker Jason Hanson. Hanson however missed a vital 52-yard kick late in the first half, which would have given the Lions the lead going into half time. His miss enabled his opposite number David Akers to notch a field goal to give the 49ers the lead going into the second half. Detroit took the lead in the second half with a 5-yard pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to Nate Burleson, but they were unable to hold on. However, the concussion sustained by Lions running back Jahvid Best may be of more concern to Detroit, as this may rule him out for the season.
Oddly, the game itself was not the story. As the game ended an excitable 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh exchanged a handshake with Lions coach Jim Schwartz, which Schwartz described as “being thrown out of the way”. Schwartz took great exception to this and chased Harbaugh. The two had to be broken up to avoid a heated confrontation. Harbaugh’s actions, which when replayed on tape showed a quick shake of the hand and a slap of the back. Harbaugh explained in the game’s press conference it was the result of being “fired up” and he admitted he may have “shook his hand too hard”.
Many are asking whether this 49ers team is “for real”? Looking at whom they have played so far it would be fair to say there is little room to argue the contrary.They beat a tough four-win Cincinnati Bengals on the road, came from behind to upend the so-called “dream team” Philadelphia Eagles, annihilated a very able Tampa Bay Bucs 48-3 and have now taken down a Lions team that had not lost all season. Their only loss came at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in overtime. NaVarro Bowman, the third-round pick out of Penn State University in 2010 has been nothing short of astounding, and adding him to a line-backing corps that already has Patrick Willis, and you have reason to believe the NFC West won’t even be close.
Elsewhere, New Orleans Saints coach, Sean Payton was caught up in a touchline collision with his own tight end Jimmy Graham, which resulted in the coach fracturing the tibia of his left leg. Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael was handed the play-calling duties, as Payton was forced to watch the remainder of the game from a television screen in the training room. Payton’s Saints were upset by a resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, led by quarterback Josh Freeman’s 303 passing yards. The Cincinnati Bengals continued the Indianapolis Colts misery with a 27-17 win. The New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills by 27-24, led by three-touchdowns from running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Business as usual for the Green Bay Packers, as the opposing St Louis Rams kept it close for around a one quarter, the game ending 24-3. In a tough divisional game, the Falcons rallied in the fourth quarter to see off Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers 31-17. The Chicago Bears looked dominant against the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday’s late game, with kick-returner, Devin Hester showing once more why it is inadvisable to kick towards him at any time in the 39-10 win.
More games for the UK?
Recently NFL owners gave the OK on games to be played in Great Britain through 2016. More interestingly however was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement that there could be more than one game in the UK next season.
Goodell outlined the great success of the International Series, and accredited the lack of a sell-out for Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears at Wembley Stadium being due to the lockout during the summer. Goodell notably said he was “very pleased” at how the business has grown in the UK market.
Teams who struggle to sell out their home games in the United States could be the target of future games in the UK. This has started rumours circulating that one day London may receive an NFL franchise, despite logistical complications.
Teams, dates and venues were not announced, but discussion has begun as to potential accommodating cities, with Birmingham at the forefront of those mentioned.
What do you think of a potential London based franchise?