St Louis Rams' James Laurinaitis tackles Stevan Ridley of the Patriots. Picture: Getty
The New England Patriots ran out dominant winners of the sixth International Series NFL game before 84,000 gridiron fans, beating and beating up the "hometeam" St Louis Rams 45-7.
Masterfully directed, the Patriots didn't seem to stop scoring. The misfiring Rams, on a freezing night, couldn't get out of their own way, tripped up by sacks, miscues, turnovers and penalties.
In the first half, the Patriots' strong spread offence, led by a well-protected quarterback Tom Brady and a fearsome tight-end called Rob Gronkowski, dominated an overmatched Rams defence. They seemed to score at will and the offensive fireworks made the freezing night slightly less biting for the capacity Wembley crowd.
A botched field goal didn't help the Rams and a one-yard run by running-back Stevan Ridley at the end of the half made it 28-7. Ridley began to run freely in the second half and the Patriots never took their foot off the Rams' throat. In the end, like the game of gridiron itself, the win was elegant, brutal and unforgiving.
The teams were both, as the Americans say, "banged up", only eight weeks into their attritional season, with the Patriots missing several key members of their defence. This game is so specialised in each position, and losing their two key safeties, Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung, plus Ras-I Dowling, with brutal offensive lineman Logan Mankins and stellar receiver Aaron Hernandez also out, meant the team were far from full strength.
The Rams were also missing key parts, notably shifty inside receiver Danny Amendola.
However, the losses did not seem to hobble the clinical Patriots, who made the long trip from Boston worthwhile with a morale-boosting win after a shaky first half of the season.
The Patriots' owner, Robert Kraft, one of the most influential figures in the NFL, whose own club has for many years been a kind of model club for others to follow, said on Saturday that he thinks London could be home to a full-time 'franchise' in the near future. He is a great salesman and accomplished businessman, but whether London, even with fans from other parts of the UK, including Scotland, could genuinely sustain a team – with the inevitable growing pains of what is termed an "expansion franchise" – is debatable.
There is no doubt there is a sizeable audience for the game. But could they fill Wembley eight times a year? And, from Americans' perspective, the travel for some teams, especially on the west coast, would be a hindrance. And given that the NFL still hasn't got a team in one of America's own major sports markets, Los Angeles, one would imagine that would be a priority.
The players this weekend, notably three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brady, as collected in front of the microphone as the ineffectual Rams defence, said all the right things, but the Patriots coach was more direct in his appraisal of whether these yearly games will lead to a UK team.
"I don't know," Bill Belichick said on the phone before the game. "I'm only here to coach my team." He did that masterfully. Wembley saw a master lass. He even liked the choppy grass of the Wembley pitch. "I think Gronk liked it," he quipped afterwards. He certainly did. Gronkowski, like the Patriots, looked formidable.
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