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Tom Brady gets the job done, but what next for the NFL International Series?

After another successful game on these shores, the NFL seems confident enough in the potential of the International Series to consider taking it to the next level. But, after a sizeable number of fans left Wembley early after the game was already won, is there really a next level to reach?


Crowd pleaser: UK fans were once again drawn to the NFL's glitz and glamour, as Wembley once again played host

The third NFL International Series match at Wembley went with the form book, as quarterback star Tom Brady led his New England Patriots passed the much-maligned Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brady’s three touchdown, 308-yard textbook performance was only blotted by two underthrown interceptions. But it was still more than enough for the Patriots to ease to a 37-7 win as Brady’s opposite number, Josh Johnson, struggled to keep pace.

The 22-year-old former fifth round pick threw an interception on just the Buccaneers’ third play of the day, an error that was returned for a touchdown by Pats cornerback Brandon Merriweather.

From then on, the 85,000 strong Wembley crowd knew the result was not in question.

A second interception from Johnson in his very next series allowed Brady to get away with an uncharacteristically slow start, and once the Pats’ considerable offence got rolling they regularly put points on the board.

Indeed, such was the one-sided nature of the game, both teams were able to change their quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. Brady was replaced by his understudy, Bryan Hoyler, after a solid day’s work had been done.

Johnson, on the other hand, was replaced by Josh Freeman, the organisation’s 2009 first round draft pick who head coach Raheem Morris has high hopes for. With Freeman considered the man for the future, Johnson might not get the starting job back when the Bucs return to action in two weeks’ time.

Few of the fans inside Wembley will spare much thought for the No. 11’s plight, however. It was Brady who was the game’s undoubted star attraction, and he said all the right things in the aftermath of a performance that satisfied the expectant crowd, if not quite blow them away.

“It was like a Super Bowl, all the flashbulbs going off and the fans waving their flags for the first five minutes of the game,” Brady said.

“You don’t see that too often. It was obviously very exciting for the fans and it’s a privilege for the players to come over here and enjoy that experience.”

With both the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, and the London organisers stating their intention to have many more games in future, the quarterback also put his weight behind the idea:

“If we get a bye week after it each time, I’m all for it,” he joked.

“It was a real fun experience for all of us and I think we all took something different for it. It probably won’t happen again for any of us, so we can all retire 1‑0 in London.”


Brady's bunch: The great QB rallies his troops

Many will wonder what the future now holds for the NFL in UK. Talk of two games a season, or even a permanent London franchise, has been made by senior league officials in the recent past but on the evidence of Sunday that prospect is still a long way off.

After all, a sizeable proportion of fans were quick to depart once Brady was withdrawn from action, a fact that will have been noted by the powers that be for future reference. And the distance teams have to travel to get to the capital is a concern that will not go away for players and staff.

“I think it would be hard to commute back and forth to London,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick admitted after the game.

“It’s a long haul. I can’t imagine playing four games here. Fortunately we have a week off next week so that helps the whole process. As far as the facilities and the game and the people and the city and all that, that was great.”

Veteran Adalius Thomas added:

“It was fun, and had the feel of a Super Bowl but it’s a long way to travel.”

Even beyond such vital considerations, how many of the fans at Wembley on Sunday will return, week-in and week-out, year after year, for a team that might not even be the equal of the current Bucs side? Will they consistently fill out Wembley, or an equivalent purpose-built arena? An answer can only be guessed at, but 90,000 is a figure even the most established football teams in England have yet to reach in the all-seater era.

Considering that there are many American cities, most notably Los Angeles, currently interested in any franchise opportunities that might arise within the league, London still has a fair way to go before it can realistically be considered a contender.


Plan of expansion: Goodell (left) wants the NFL to continue to grow

But Commissioner Goodell, unsurprisingly, sees a lot of cause for optimism.

“We’re thrilled by the reaction we’ve got,” Goodell told US television after the game.

“At the first game [in 2007] we had some novelty, the second we grew from that, and this year it’s even more extraordinary.

“There are such great sports fans over here, there’s room for more than a couple of sports and I think the NFL’s going to have a place over here.

“One of the things we’d like to do is maybe increase this series from one to two games and if it continues to have the same kind of following, we’ll be able to bring more football to fans over here.”

A second game would perhaps make sense, testing the water to see just how widespread the game’s support really is. If fans turn out in their droves for both games, especially if they contain inferior teams, then the next step would become obvious.

But on the evidence of Sunday, it is equally likely that the saturation point is actually nearer one than two.

That won’t be known for sure until the leap is made. In the meantime, however, the London game is a valuable money spinner for the league.

Whether the venture will ever become anything more than that, however, is almost impossible to judge.

October 27, 2009 - Posted by | NFL, Sport | , ,

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