The Jacksonville Jaguars found their second home in London to be an unforgiving place this weekend as they lost 24-18 to the Philadelphia Eagles at Wembley.
Carson Wentz threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns for the reigning Super Bowl champions, who improve to 4-4 as they look to get back on track.
Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles matched Wentz yard for yard with 286 himself, but had only one touchdown to show for it.
The Jaguars had arrived in London on the back of three straight defeats, but as regulars at Wembley they were hoping to make it four wins in a row under the arch.
Instead their weekend started with four players being arrested in a London nightclub and ended in a defeat which leaves them floundering at 3-5.
It was another Wembley setback for Jaguars and Fulham owner Shahid Khan, who withdrew his £600million bid to buy the stadium earlier this month after finding it had proved more divisive than hoped.
The collapse of the deal raises all sorts of questions about where the NFL’s London project might be going, with officials recently insisting a franchise is a realistic prospect by 2022 and this game being played in front of a record crowd of 85,870.
A Khan-owned Wembley would have been the obvious home and the Jaguars – committed to playing games here for another two years – remain the most obvious candidates to make the move.
Those are questions for another day. The concern here had been which one of these teams could save their season.
When this fixture was first announced it had the potential to be a Super Bowl preview, but both teams have seen their campaigns derailed by injuries.
The first half played out exactly like a contest between teams missing vital personnel all over the field – with neither team able to offer their quarterbacks much protection and promising drives undone by turnovers.
The Jaguars have had little running game all season while the Eagles were hit by the loss of London-born back Jay Ajayi to a season-ending ACL injury earlier this month, so this would be a battle of quarterbacks.
Given Bortles’ recent struggles – the Jaguars signal-caller was benched last week for fumbling the ball repeatedly – that favoured the Eagles but in the first half it was not so straightforward.
Philadelphia struggled to protect star quarterback Wentz as they lost both of their starting tackles in the first half, and after Wentz fumbled on the Eagles’ opening drive he was picked off in the end zone by Jalen Ramsey on the next.
The Jaguars fared little better offensively, but had the formidable boot of kicker Josh Lambo on their side. He kicked two booming field goals, from 51 and 57 yards, to set a new franchise record of 21 successful field goals in succession and give Jacksonville a 6-3 lead in the second quarter.
But they went in trailing at half-time after Keelan Cole fumbled to give the Eagles a scoring opportunity.
After Wentz converted from 3rd down and 11 by scrambling for 13 yards, he threw deep left for Dallas Goedert to power into the end zone, putting Philadelphia 10-6 up at the break.
And they took full control early in the third quarter when Wendell Smallwood took a short screen pass from Wentz and ran in for a 36-yard score.
The Jaguars responded in style with their own 75-yard drive, capped by Bortles 11-yard touchdown pass to Dede Westbrook, but a two-point conversation attempt failed.
Lambo’s third field goal of the afternoon cut the deficit to just two points at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Eagles responded immediately, leading 24-15 after a 75-yard drive capped by Wentz’s five-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz.
The Jaguars marched back down field with a chance to reply, but had to settle for another field goal – taking Lambo to 23 straight – after DJ Chark juggled Bortles’ attempted touchdown pass in the end zone, summing up a frustrating visit to the capital.