NFL returned to London as Atlanta Falcons beat New York Jets
- Credit: PA
After a two-year Covid-enforced hiatus, the NFL returned to London last weekend – and the 65,089 fans who packed into Tottenham Hotspur Stadium were treated to a poorly-played game from two of the league’s six worst teams.
Both teams have first-year head coaches and quarterbacks who wear the no 2 shirt, but it was the Atlanta Falcons' 14-year veteran Matt Ryan who triumphed 27–20 over the New York Jets, whose rookie (first-year) play-caller Zach Wilson was making just his fifth NFL start.
The Falcons took the opening kick-off and went downfield, the drive ending with a 31-yard field goal from Younghoe Woo.
Atlanta never trailed and, later in the first quarter, Ryan threw a short touchdown pass to Kyle Pitts, which Woo improved. It was Pitts’ first career touchdown as a professional.
Both teams turned the ball over to start the second quarter, a fumble from Hayden Hurst countered by a interception thrown by Wilson, but Atlanta continued to make good yardage and they added a touchdown with a 17-yard pass from Ryan to Hurst, who atoned for his earlier mishandling.
The Jets finally got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter, but it was only a 31-yard field goal from Mike Ammendola. Even then, New York’s defence couldn’t stop Ryan putting the Falcons in scoring position and Woo ended the half with a 51-yard field goal.
The NFL’s worst team at holding a first-half lead since the start of the 2020 season, the Falcons (5–6), showed why as they allowed Tevin Coleman to return the kick-off 69 yards.
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Given a short field, Wilson took full advantage and Ty Johnson burst over from a yard out for the Jets’ first touchdown of the game. Ammendola hit a post with his extra point so the lead was 20–9.
The teams swapped punts before a good Atlanta drive, which included the 5,000th career pass completion by Ryan – only the seventh player in NFL history to achieve this feat – was ended by a Mike Davis fumble on the Jets’ 20-yard line.
New York couldn’t capitalise and punted away, giving the Falcons the chance to take time off the clock.
By the time they punted, there was only 9:30 remaining in the final quarter and although the Jets did score on a Michael Carter two-yard run and two-point conversion from Jamison Crowder (catching a two-yard Wilson pass) they had to find a way to Ryan, and they couldn’t.
Ryan, the NFL MVP only a few years ago, rolled back the clock with a precise drive when Atlanta got the ball back. In nine plays, the Falcons went 75 yards, and ate up more than four minutes of game time, before Davis ran in a three-yard touchdown.
Atlanta went into the loosest of prevent defences and allowed Wilson to complete a trio of downfield passes.
The Falcons defence upped their game and when Wilson tried to avoid a sack he was eventually tackled after a loss of 17 yards.
Desperate to get a score to make it a one-score game Ammendola kicked a 49-yard field goal on third down, but there were only 19 seconds left on the clock.
New York had to gather the onside kick to have a chance of a miracle but a bad kick-off from Ammendola and a penalty gave the Falcons the ball and, one kneel-down later, the game was over.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith said: "It's big time, the stadium and the atmosphere. We loved coming over here. It's spectacular.
"The whole environment, we've been treated so well since we came over here. It's an unbelievable stadium and great atmosphere. We were happy to be part of it."
Jets' coach Robert Saleh said: "The fans were phenomenal, for both sides. The experience is always fantastic. The result was unfortunate, but the experience is always good."
Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins will now face each other at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for a second NFL UK game on Sunday.