A column by Senior Sports Columnist Chuck Pollock
Several years ago, a friend of mine and some of his pals went to Scotland to play several of the famed golf courses.
On their way home, they stopped in London on what just happened to be a weekend when the Jacksonville Jaguars were hosting an NFL regular-season game.
They actually went to a soccer contest, but the Jags were sold out … all 90,000 seats at iconic Wembley Stadium.
Upon arriving home, he marveled to me, “I couldn’t believe how much Jaguars gear was for sale everywhere. It was like they were their home team.”
And with good reason.
When Jags owner Shahid Khan purchased Fulham, a Premier League soccer team, it was speculated that if the NFL wanted to put a franchise in England, the Jaguars would be the perfect choice to build a fanbase and that’s just what has happened.
Since 2013 Jacksonville has played every year in London except 2020 when there was no game due to Covid.
However, this year that was made up for as the Jaguars will play there twice … on consecutive weeks.
Last Sunday, Jacksonville beat the Falcons 23-7 at Wembley and tomorrow it will face the Bills, in the Jags first-ever game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, whose 62,850 seats figure to be full.
BUFFALO, after an embarrassing overtime loss to the Jets in the season opener at the Meadowlands, is 3-1, having won three straight while outscoring the opposition — Las Vegas, Washington and Miami — 123-33 or 41-11 per game.
It’s different for Jacksonville, one of the preseason favorites to win the AFC.
The Jags come in at 2-2 having won at Indianapolis and a week ago against the Falcons, but losing both their home games to Kansas City and Houston.
Oddsmakers favor Buffalo by 5½ points but there’s a concern that the Jaguars, 5-5 in London games, will have a bit of an edge playing back-to-back games in Britain. The Bills are returning after eight years and an embarrassing 34-31 loss to the Jags in 2015 when Buffalo quarterback E.J. Manuel had a nightmare game as Jacksonville scored on a “pick six” and a fumble return for a score within seven seconds of the second quarter.
The Bills also beat the Eagles in an exhibition game at London in 1991.
WHAT’S INTERESTING about Sunday is that it was supposed to match two of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, but only Buffalo’s Josh Allen has lived up to the part. After a miserable season opener in the overtime loss to the Jets at the Meadowlands, the sixth-year QB has had an epiphany. In the three Bills wins since, he’s 72-of-93 passing — a 77% completion rate — with eight touchdown passes and only one interception.
Equally impressive, he’s learned to slide or step out of bounds when on the run. The past three games, he’s rushed 10 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns and not put himself in harm’s way.
Meanwhile, Jags’ QB Trevor Lawrence has had a rocky start, completing 2/3rds of his throws but with only three TD passes and two picks in four games. Those aren’t the numbers to be expected from one of the NFL’s top-rated quarterbacks.
But, as usual for overseas games, the discussion comes back to playing five time zones earlier than usual … in this case, 9:30 a.m. our time.
Of course, the Jaguars have been doing it for a decade, a decided edge.
And Buffalo coach Sean McDermott admits this is all new to him.
“You’re talking to a homebody here, so I’ve never been there,” he said earlier this week. “From what I hear and the research that’s being used as our vision, we’re going to try to sleep on the plane Thursday night (the team left late that afternoon). Then try to stay up through the day (Friday) and try to get acclimated to a little bit … as much as you can.
“I’ll do the best that I can, and do what’s been explained to me. I think the cool piece of it is, there’s been a number of people working behind the scenes on this since we got word that this was going to happen.
He added, “They’ve done a ton of research over the years and now it’s ramped up making sure we’re going about it the right way.”
MEANWHILE, this is all new to Allen too.
“I don’t know whether I’m liked, loved or hated there. I guess we’ll find out on Sunday,” he said with a laugh. “We’re all ambassadors of this game, especially when we travel abroad and play. So the best way that we can help support this game is to put as good of a product on the field as we can and play at as high of a level as we can when it comes down to execution.”
Only three Bills have played in London, running back Latavius Murray actually played there twice last year, scoring for New Orleans in Week 4 and Denver in Week 8. Wideout Deonte Harty was also on that Saints team while guard David Edwards played in Britain with the Rams in 2017.
“In terms of body clock, we’re just making sure that we’re staying on top of that and trusting what our sports science people are telling us, trusting what our trainers are telling us, being hydrated as much as possible and trying to get as much sleep as possible,” Allen said. “That’s one thing that we’ve had guys that have done this before keep coming to is sleep cycle … making sure we’re getting our rest and doing everything we can to be prepared.”
Bills 24, Jaguars 23
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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