x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

London pride for the Saints

High-scoring action as Chargers are just held off in thrilling encounter in the second NFL showdown at Wembley.

Saints quarter-back Drew Brees, about to make a play in New Orleans' victory over San Diego at Wembley.
Saints quarter-back Drew Brees, about to make a play in New Orleans' victory over San Diego at Wembley.

New Orleans 37 // San Diego 32 In the run-up to Sunday's annual NFL match in London, Philip Rivers, the San Diego Chargers' quarterback, showed his utter class, attending a press conference in a top that bore the slogan "Piggly Wiggly". Drew Brees, his counterpart on the New Orleans Saints, kept pace, employing his time in the 2,000-year-old city to take in a performance of Jersey Boys, a play about an American pop quartet.

The tastes of the two men are middle-brow and their teams' seasons were likewise middling as they entered the British game. Each team were characterised by a weak passing defence and a superb passing attack (on Sunday, San Diego threw for 341 yards and New Orleans for 339) and each needed a win to avoid sliding to a grim 3-5 record. On the slippery grass of Wembley, New Orleans triumphed 37-32. The Saints committed no turnovers and compensated for the loss of the multi-purpose receiver Reggie Bush to injury by sharing the ball. Five Saints scored touchdowns and eight caught passes.

The Saints dominated the first half, holding the ball for more than 19 minutes, but led only 23-17 at the break because while their own offence chipped away steadily, San Diego's broke free for a handful of big gains. Of the half's four plays that went for 30 yards or more, three belonged to the Chargers, foremost among them a 40-yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson. In the third quarter, though, New Orleans kept churning out yardage, but the Chargers ran out of big plays, with none covering more than 14 yards.

The score was 37-20 by the time New Orleans let down their guard, and San Diego might well have come back to tie the game if not for a late interception by Jonathan Vilma on a twice-tipped ball. San Diego fans can, however, take heart from the vitality of Tomlinson. The supposed superstar has been impeded by a toe injury, but flashed his trademark bursting and cutting abilities in running for 105 yards.

Some of Sunday's other games, though played in the colonies, carried connections to England, subtly. The New England Patriots' helmets bear the image of a member of the Minutemen, commandoes who battled old England patriots in the Revolutionary War. New England pacified St Louis 23-16. Kevin Faulk made a fingertip catch for the decisive score. Carolina are named for King Charles I of England. Carolina's Panthers, who had alternated between wins and losses since the second week of the season, broke the pattern with a 27-23 defeat of Arizona.

Steve Smith caught touchdown passes of 18 and 65 yards from Jake Delhomme to guide the Panthers home. Oakland - their first syllable refers to the substance with which British dentists manufactured false teeth until the late 1960s - barely nibbled at the Baltimore Ravens in a 29-10 thrashing. rmckenzie@thenational.ae