By Ben Morse, CNN
(CNN) — The Jacksonville Jaguars won on their 10th game in London, beating the Atlanta Falcons 23-7 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday as the 2023 NFL International Series kicked off.
Calvin Ridley came back to haunt his old team, opening the scoring midway through the first quarter after latching onto a pristine throw from Trevor Lawrence for a 30-yard touchdown.
A second quarter meltdown from Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder – consisting of two interceptions in successive pass attempts, one of which was returned for a touchdown – meant the Jaguars held a 17-point lead heading into halftime.
Ridder somewhat made up for his earlier errors in Atlanta’s first drive of the second half, connecting with wide receiver Drake London for a touchdown.
But the deficit proved too much for the Falcons, with London’s attempted touchdown catch on fourth down late in the fourth quarter being agonizingly out of bounds. The second-year wide receiver’s second foot landed outside the playing area.
With time running down, the Jaguars were able to make enough plays to wind down the clock and salt the rest of the game away for their second win of the season. The Falcons fall to 2-2.
Sunday’s game is the first of five international games the NFL has implemented as part of their ever-expanding International Series.
Two games will be played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this month – the Jaguars ‘hosting’ the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens taking on the Tennessee Titans – before two games in Germany at the Frankfurt Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins will play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, November 5, and the Indianapolis Colts will clash against the New England Patriots a week later.
Lawrence explained afterwards that although the victory wasn’t the prettiest, he and his team “just found a way” to get over the finish line.
“It still wasn’t all that clean at times but we’re a gritty group and we just found a way to win,” the 23-year-old – who will celebrate his birthday in London during the Jags’ two-week stint in the UK – told ESPN on the field at Wembley Stadium.
“That’s what I told the guys at the beginning of that last drive. ‘Let’s finish the game on our terms right now. Let’s put a drive together and feel good about it.’ And that’s what we did.
“Obviously didn’t score [a touchdown] but four minutes there, to be able to go 60 or 70 yards and eat up that clock and get a field goal is big.”
Back over the pond
Ever since Jacksonville begun playing games in London, the city has become a de facto home-away-from-home for the Florida team. The team’s owner, Shahid Khan, is also the owner of London-based Premier League team Fulham.
Sunday’s game was the Jaguars’ 10th in London – the most of any team in the NFL. They have played in every London series since 2013.
As a result, the team has built up a dedicated fanbase in the UK, many of whom made up the 85,176 in attendance on Sunday.
It was the ‘home’ team which opened the scoring on its second drive of the day; Ridley – who was drafted by the Falcons in 2018 before being traded to Jacksonville in 2022 – completing an impressive nine-play, 72-yard drive when he was found by Lawrence in the back of the endzone.
The Falcons struggled to create any meaningful offense during the first half, with Ridder compiling a second quarter to forget. It could have been three interceptions in that period, with Ridder’s deep pass dropped by Williams with the ball seemingly begging to be intercepted.
Second-year quarterback Ridder finished the opening half with a less-than-impressive line of statistics – completing nine of the 14 passes he threw for 73 passing yards and two interceptions.
However, things improved shortly after halftime for the Falcons with Ridder finding London for a short touchdown pass to give Atlanta renewed hope.
The touchdown seemed to spark the previously dormant Falcons offense into life, and in particular rookie running back Bijan Robinson whose explosiveness and elusiveness got his team out of holes on multiple occasions.
Although the Falcons were able to move the ball, they could not add to their scoreline, with Jacksonville the team creating further separation between the two via the boot of Brandon McManus.
Atlanta did think it had finally punched the ball into the endzone midway through the final quarter when London leapt highest to bring down a Ridder pass, but his second foot was out of bounds. With that, the Falcons’ hopes of returning to Georgia with a win ended.
The win was finally sealed when the Jags’ defensive end Josh Allen got his third sack of a monster game, causing Ridder to fumble the ball with it falling to one of his teammates.
With the Jags also playing next week in London, it’s a winning return for the UK’s adopted team.
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