"A long-ass flight": London Game Recap - ATL vs NYJ

I won’t lie to you – the Jets vs the Falcons would not have been my preferred choice of teams for the return of the NFL to London but, in the afterglow, I’m sure we can all just say we’re happy that it happened. Credit to the fans at Spurs Stadium today: they gave this game all they had, and willed the Jets back into what was becoming a blowout at the half. Did the Falcons help them? Yep, of course: Atlanta’s strange decision to start playing prevent defense as early as the start of the 3rd quarter was baffling, perhaps on brand for what the Falcons have been over the last decade or more. But Atlanta had just enough wherewithal to limp over the line at the end of 4 quarters.

Anyway, before all that, it was just GREAT to be back in a stadium in the UK watching the NFL. The most notable part of pre-game was Jets’ Head Coach Robert Saleh attempting to set the tone by running 100 yard sprints up and down the field. His workout was significantly more intense than anything his team showed in the first 30 minutes of action. Cordarrelle Patterson was warming up by playing catch with the crowd. A man in a Steelers jersey got roundly booed for a wayward throw behind the advertising boards. I thought it was actually Big Ben in the stands the way he missed his target by 40 yards.

Gang Green definitely outnumbered the fans shouting “RISE UP,” despite this officially being a “Falcons Home Game,” and they were treated to an absolutely outrageous show of nonsensical pomp with the performance of the national anthem. Katherine Jenkins did her thing – as you might expect – from on the field, whereas the American national anthem was sung from the TOP OF THE STADIUM. Like… why?! It was cool – no doubt – and the flyover from the fighter jets that followed was absolutely electric, but please don’t think the symbolism of having America at the top of the stadium and the U.K. on the ground floor was lost on me or a few others in the stadium.

Pitts' Dominant as Jets Slump

Credit: SI.com

On to the game: Kyle Pitts was busy early, and that would become the headline theme for the day. Without Calvin Ridley & Russell Gage, Matt Ryan had to utilise his Tight Ends, which he did early and often with Lee Smith, Hayden Hurst, and the aforementioned Pitts all making multiple catches in the early goings. Pitts’ first NFL Touchdown was the emphatic exclamation point on a dominant Falcons’ start, that was really rammed home when Hurst skipped into the endzone in the 2nd quarter to extend the Falcons lead to 17-0.

The Jets, and especially Zach Wilson, were TRULY abjectly awful in the first half. Completely brutal. The first 30 minutes were an absolute destruction of the Jets, with Wilson looking more like a high-school Sophomore than the 2nd overall pick. It was bad bad. A lone Matt Amendola Field Goal meant the Jets didn’t enter the break scoreless, but they deserved to be.

The second half kick off provided huge momentum for the Jets, with Tevin Coleman somehow making a positive impact on a game for the first time since 2016. The Jets had a short field and were able to cash in for 6 with Ty Johnson scooting into the endzone to give them a little hope. A quick Falcons drive followed with a shanked punt, and New York had a chance to cut into the Atlanta lead. But that would be far too simple, wouldn’t it? A couple of first downs but then another punt for the Jets. It was only then that “those Falcons” started to show up.

The Falcons couldn’t really choke a 17 point lead in London, could they? Not after they choked a 21 point lead in London on their last visit 7 years ago? Well… They were certainly going to give it a try! Mike Davis fumbled on the 20 yard line with a little over 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, when Atlanta seemingly had the chance to put the final nail in the Jets’ coffin. Instead, it took another couple of drives, but the Jets did make an impact on the scoreboard again, with a DPI call against AJ Terrell giving the Jets 1st and Goal at the 2. Elijah Moore was about to score before the penalty, but instead it was Michael Carter who ran it in.

The card said “go for 2,” and Robert Saleh obliged, as Wilson found Jamison Crowder in the flat and… somehow… with a shade under 7 minutes to play, it was a one-possesion game; 20-17 Atlanta. But Matty Ice was not to be denied a win in London this time. The Falcons drove down the field one more time, with Pitts again making a big play over the middle, leading to Mike Davis converting a short touchdown run that all but sealed the deal. Pitts was the star of the show from start to finish, eclipsing the hundred yard mark and finishing with a stat line of 9 catches on 10 targets for 119yds and a score.

Post-Game Positivity as Falcons Head Home Happy

Credit: Callum Squires (The Touchdown)

A ten point lead with a little over 2 minutes was not something even the Falcons could squander away, as their pass rush turned itself up a few notches. Sure, the Jets started chucking it and moved back into the Red Zone, but Wilson was sacked and Robert Saleh elected to kick the Field Goal on 3rd down and try and save time. It made no real difference – except for cashing the over for many excited bettors around the world – as Zaccheaus covered the onside kick and the game was done. 27-20 Atlanta.

Handshakes ensued, and Falcons Owner Arthur Blank entered the postgame press conference room looking exhausted rather than ecstatic. Clearly the emotional rollercoaster of second half stress took a toll on ownership just as much as it did the Falcons’ fans. The post-game interviews were – unsurprisingly – upbeat and jubilant. Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Davis then proceeded to do what could only be described as a two-person comedy set, with both poking fun at the other for a variety of things. Davis said that Patterson was “a true playmaker,” and that he wanted to be like him when he was “grown up.” Patterson reflected that the trip over to London was something he’d done lots of times and despite the “long ass flight,” he always enjoys the energy and said he’d love to play in a different country every week.

Matt Ryan was a little more understated, but noted he agreed with his running backs’ assessment of the flight time. Ryan said this time – as opposed to 7 years ago – he’d be flying home very happy with the win in his luggage. Zach Wilson won’t be so lucky, as the team from the big apple heads home suffering once more. I feel sorry for Wilson, because he isn’t blessed with any really talented weapons, but you have to say that with every week that goes by… questions about those selecting him 2nd overall are getting louder and louder.

For Atlanta, this should have been emphatic, considering the start they had, and it wasn’t, which tells you this team is still very much on the wrong side of average. That said, the jewel in the crown that is Kyle Pitts is shining brightly – and will for quite some time. 

Callum Squires