The New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams took the NFL's fieldtrip to London this week. The annual game in London's Wembley Stadium is, to the NFL, a way to reach out to its fast growing European audience, but the players given the "honor" of going quietly make it clear they'd rather have their contracts negotiated by replacement refs than deal with the long flights and messy sleep schedules the game demands.
Though the games are rarely great (the Patriots blew out the Rams, 45 - 7), the jetlag and culture clashes inevitably produce memorable moments. Here's our list of winners and losers from the NFL-Goes-To-London Weekend:
Best Anthem Performance: God Save Pia. Just before kick-off, American Idol fan-favorite Pia Toscano opened the afternoon by singing "The Star Spangled Banner." Toscano was a favorite to win Idol in 2011 and her elimination in just ninth place was something of a scandal. But at least it gave her a taste for being upstaged. The U.K. anthem was sung by opera star and general British bombshell Katherine Jenkins. Surely the only singer on Earth to sing for a Pope and be to be caught up in allegations of a cheating scandal with David Beckham—both the singer and Becks blasted the rumors. Jenkins delivered "God Save the Queen" in a low-cut, nude-colored bandage dress that even she seemingly could not believe. As she caught an image of herself on the stadium's big screen, her microphone caught her saying "wow." Indeed. After Jenkins' operatic performance in her soaring mezzo-soprano, not even Steven Tyler would have voted for Pia.
Best Metric Conversion: After hulking New England lineman Vince Wilfork made an athletic tackle, CBS showed a graphic listing his height and weight as 1.88m and 147.3 kg. Cheeky.
Best Historical Revision: British "Patriots" Fans. The jerseys of nearly every NFL franchise were visible in the stands among the English fans, but we assumed that of all the teams that would get support, the Revolution-inspired "Patriots" would be toward the bottom. But the three-point hat, the "Patriot Pat" mascot and the being-from-Boston did not appear to hurt their following. We also wondered if perhaps the stands were actually full of American ex-pats and tourists taking in the home team, but no: As Jenkins sang "God Save The Queen," the Patriot-clad crowd sang along reverently.
Best Touchdown Celebration: The Nutcracker Dudes. After scoring early in the game, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski performed a series of stiff marches in tribute to London's renowned Palace Guards, whose unflappability is legendary. Or, as Gronkowski called them, "the Nutcracker dudes."
As for how the rest of the league did across the pond...
Throwback Jerseys? Throw 'Em Out: Hey Pittsburgh, seriously?!
Best Two Plays: On the first possession of overtime against Tennessee, Indianapolis Colts receiver Vic Ballard caught a pass from Andrew Luck with three Titans between him and the corner of the end zone. From the five, he leapt forward and spun his body in a barrel roll past two diving defenders, nicking the end zone pylon for the game-winning touchdown.
With six seconds left against the archrival New York Giants, Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo heaved a 37-yard pass to the end zone toward Dez Bryant. Bryant leapt, corralled the ball in the mid-air and fell into the end zone for what looked like, and was ruled by an official just feet away as, an amazing game-winning score. But on a replay review, Bryant was ruled out of bounds on the catch when the fingertips of an extended hand brushed the sideline before the rest of his body landed inbounds. A second Hail Mary after the reversal fell incomplete and the Giants escaped, 29 - 24.
Hurricane San-chy? We could rehash Miami's 30 - 9 battering of the New York Jets, backing up a week of trash talk. Or we could let Family Guy writer Julius Sharpe take it: "Mark Sanchez looks like he's already playing in a hurricane."
Playing at home, Sanchez was intercepted once and connected on just half of his passes. At this point of the season last year, Miami was 0 - 7. They are 10 - 6 since, alone in second place in the AFC East behind New England at 4 - 3, and if the playoffs started today, they would be in.
Foul Play: - Washington's electrifying rookie quarterback can now claim to have done something that Joe Montana, Dan Marino and John Elway never did: commit pass interference. Washington tried a trick play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending Robert Griffin III out for a pass from receiver Josh Morgan. RGIII pushed off of the Steeler's defender, which drew a flag for offensive pass interference. For his trouble, RGII also got absolutely leveled on the play by Steelers' safety Ryan Clark. As play-calling, it was unconscionable; as a comically accelerated animated GIF, genius.