Sunday 6th October – the first NFL game at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, the Chicago Bears @ Oakland Raiders. The new venue, purpose-built with NFL in mind, lived up to expectations and the two teams put on a classic which immediately placed it as one of the best games in the history of the International Series.
Raiders get it right (eventually)
This was Oakland’s third trip to London and it was certainly a case of third time lucky. Their preparation, arriving in the early part of the week to allow for acclimatisation, put them on course for the win from the start as they marched into a half time 17-0 lead.
The game plan was very efficiently executed, certainly for the first two quarters. The Oakland O-line was on the front foot from the start, punching holes in the Chicago D to allow Josh Jacobs to eat up ground and dominate time of possession. When dropping back to pass, plays were designed to move Derek Carr in the pocket away from the likes of Khalil Mack. The result – zero sacks for the much vaunted Bears defense.
On defense the Raiders out-Bear’d the Bears, hurrying Chase Daniel and limiting the running game to less than 50 yards. However, this being the Raiders there had to be drama. They imploded in the 3rd quarter off the back of a wayward toss between Carr and Jacobs, blown blocking assignments which halted a drive and costly penalties. Throw in Tarik Cohen’s almost returning a punt for a TD and the Raiders managed to turn round 21-17 down at the start of the 4th quarter.
The 4th quarter hinged on a bold 4th and 1 fake punt call which was made and then almost lost on a fumble. This was part of a 97 yard drive which resulted in a 24-21 lead with 1:57 to go. The defense made a final stop – an INT where Chase Daniel could have been picked by 3 of the Raiders secondary and a deserved London victory was finally theirs.
They now sit 3-2 in the AFC West and would snag a wildcard spot if the playoffs were decided today. I wouldn’t bet against them being in the mix come December but they do have to go to the Packers and then the Texans off the back of their well-earned by week. Whatever happens, I think the Gruden / Mayock partnership is beginning to bear fruit.
Bears take a step backwards
This was a tough loss for the Chicago Bears. Coming off a tough divisional win against the Vikings they will have headed to London (a little late) on a high, but will have left the capital needing to regroup. They looked sluggish at the start of the game and, key for me, lost Akiem Hicks early in the first quarter. This dented the D and Oakland’s O-line took control. Whatever was said at half time worked but only after Oakland had gifted Chicago its first 7 points.
Chase Daniel had one good quarter, which is not enough to win any NFL game. Stepping in for Mitch Trubisky, this performance will raise doubts about his ability to carry the team on his back for any long stretch. Their inability to run the ball effectively, evident in almost every game so far this season, makes Chicago increasingly reliant on the defense. This is going to impinge on any attempt to make the playoffs in a very competitive NFC North.
After the Bears have the week off to lick their wounds they come back to a schedule littered with challenges. A repeat divisional title looks a long shot at the moment.
Tottenham – new London home of NFL
No question this is a great stadium. It’s design from the outside is nothing short of beautiful and the most impressive thing for me was the view from the seat. Even up in the top tier you felt close to the action. There has been lots of post-match praise and I would agree it feels like a proper NFL stadium (I did like Twickenham but have always found Wembley a bit soul-less).
There are things to build on – it needs some form of tailgate, this is integral to the true American NFL gameday experience and was missing from Sunday’s pre-match build up. Inside the stadium think they do need to take into account a NFL game lasts a bit longer then 90 minutes of premier league (so don’t run out of things like beer!). As often happens, catering inside the stadium leaves a lot to be desired – hence the need for proper tailgate food areas.
Transport links are the other issue. I know there was the option to pre-book some link transport but, that aside, Tottenham is not the easiest to get to with most stations (White Hart Lane apart) around a 20-30 min walk. If you are going to host evening kick offs, which seems likely going forward, then how 60,000 people make it home / to hotels at 10pm on a Sunday night needs to be looked into.
Performance of the week
Carolina Panthers Christian McCaffrey – 176 yards rushing, 237 yards total (53% of team total). This is a special player who is spearheading Carolina with the absence of Cam Newton. In a wide-open NFC the Panthers look like they will be thereabouts at the end of the regular season.
Look ahead to week 6 match ups – my 4 to watch
Back up to .500 for the season as 3 out of 4 last week – thank you to Seahawks, Raiders and Panthers (what was that Cowboys). Let’s see if i can continue to upward trend this week.
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (London) – second Tottenham fixture and should be a doozy of a divisional match up. The Bucs ran the Saints close last week after putting 50 points on the Rams the week before. I do like Carolina but think Tampa Bay will have more firepower – Buccaneers by 4
Philadelphia Eagles @ Minnesota Vikings – both sides warmed up with very straightforward victories over the New York franchises. Both are 3-2, and both need to win this to flex their muscles in the NFC. Kirk Cousins blows hot and cold – this week cold, Eagles by 6.
Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs – the Chiefs are vulnerable and the Texans come off a big win against the Falcons. Two next gen QBs to drool over and points a plenty I think. Real shootout, but the Chiefs bounce back by 7.
49ers @ LA Rams – Are the 49ers for real? They are 4-0 and look very efficient. The Rams need to halt the slide after 2 defeats on the spin. Sometimes great sides find something from somewhere when they just need to win, by hook or by crook. 49ers to get a rude awakening as McVay, Goff and co. craft a Rams win by 9.
Same time next week!