Such was the clamour for tickets to this game that the NFL confirmed it was the most in-demand regular season game anywhere in the league this season, and with 85,870 in attendance it was a record crowd for an NFL game at Wembley.
But the action between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles struggled to live up to its billing as the Eagles eased past a Jags team that began the season dreaming of winning it all but who will now struggle to even make the playoffs.
The Jaguars came within minutes of the Super Bowl last season only to be overhauled by the Tom Brady-inspired New England Patriots. The Philadelphia Eagles, of course, went to the Super Bowl, dispatched the Pats and won the whole damn thing. This fixture, the final game of three in London during 2018, was therefore supposed to be a titanic tussle between two of the top four teams in the NFL last season.
After difficult starts to the year though, both sides came to Britain with identical losing records at 3-4. This was a fork-in-the-road game and with the two teams stacked on the defensive side of the ball, it always seemed as if the offense who showed up would win.
And that never felt likely to be Jacksonville.
Blake Bortles has held this franchise hostage for too long now and rather than address the issue, the Jags have looked to run and hide from it. For the past two off-seasons it has been clear that even if they weren’t going to bring in a replacement for Bortles they would need to add competition but they instead went in the opposite direction, releasing Chad Henne for fear that his potential could make Bortles uncomfortable.
Renewing Bortles’ contract and removing any competition was the gutless move of a franchise that has cost itself a crucial year in a diminishing Super Bowl window. Their defense came together as a result of savvy drafting and big-money additions in free agency, but eventually the latter comes home to roost and this is a franchise short on answers currently.
Trading for Carlos Hyde suggested that Jacksonville believed themselves to still be in the hunt but without Leonard Fournette forcing the opposition to stack the box, Bortles can’t find any one-on-one match-ups and even when he does, his accuracy continues to suffer.
The Eagles’ Super Bowl success owed so much to bullying opponents in the trenches, and while the loss of Lane Johnson with a head injury early on affected their offensive line’s ability to dominate the left side, it was on this half of the field that they eventually broke a big screen play for their second touchdown that first allowed the Eagles to pull away from their hapless opponents.
Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert had got the first, hauling in a play-action pass from Carson Wentz and then making Quenton Meeks miss before strutting in to score. The sides traded field goals, but it was only the Eagles making decisive strikes, heading comfortably for a win until Dede Westbrook’s toe-tapper at the back of the end zone brought the Jags back within a prayer.
Even after giving up a field goal that allowed Jacksonville to within a couple of points, the Eagles always looked confident in going down the other end and scoring. Wentz led a composed, methodical drive that culminated in a touchdown when he split Zach Ertz out wide as an X receiver and took advantage of his size with a laser throw to the outside that extended the Eagles’ lead to nine.
Bortles’ second-half play improved as the Jaguars limply attempted to recover, but this was principally a result of better protection. Some dropped passes give his already unflattering statistics a further dent but this one was already out of reach – and for the ambitious Jags the playoffs might now be too. As for Bortles, he will only truly know how much trust this team has left in him when the trade deadline passes on Tuesday night.
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