New Orleans Saints 37 San Diego Chargers 32
After the inaugural NFL London game in 2007 between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants, fans headed to Wembley for the clash between the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers hoping for a more offensive encounter than twelve months earlier. Both the Saints and Chargers came in to the game with identical records, being 3-4 for the season and with this game falling at exactly the half way point in the 2008 season, a win for both teams was crucial and potentially pivotal for the remainder of the season. Since 1990, only eight teams had made the play offs after starting 3-5 compared to 38 teams who started 4-4. Therefore, the loser would face an uphill battle to make the post season while the winning team would be in prime position for a winning run during the second half of the season.
The game started with much promise as both teams got on the scoreboard with their opening positions. Failure to convert in the red zone by the Saints and Chargers offenses meant that both teams settled for field goals to get the up and running and the first quarter finished at 3-3.
It was only in the second quarter that the game exploded in to life when Saints Quarterback, Drew Brees, lead his team on a 77 yard drive down the field before finding Wide Receiver, Devery Henderson, from 12 yards out for the opening touch down of the game, much to the delight of the Wembley crowd.
No sooner had the fans settled back in to their seats to see how the Chargers could respond to falling behind before they were on their feet once again, this time cheering a fumbled kick off return by the Charger’s Darren Sproles, which was recovered by New Orleans’s Usama Young and returned to the San Diego 25 yard line. With momentum firmly on their side, the Saints drove down to the one yard line before Deuce McAllister carried the ball over in to the end zone for the second touch down of the game and giving the Saints a 16-3 lead.
The Chargers responded immediately with a short pass from Phillip Rivers to LaDainian Tomlinson resulting in a 12 yard touch down run, adding to the 48 yards that the Chargers star Running Back had already accrued on the drive.
The second quarter scoring frenzy showed no signs of stopping as a trade mark deep pass from Bress to Receiver, Lance Moore for a 30 yard touch down was enough to give the Saints 13 point advantage. The Chargers responded straight away with an impressive drive down field which resulted in an Antonio Gates touch down and completed a 34 point quarter. It was compelling stuff and left the crowds on the edge of their seats as to what was in store for the second half.
While the second half didn’t provide a score-fest on the scale of that seen in the second quarter, the game was still a gripping affair. The Saints extended their lead to 30-17, after scoring from the first possession of the third quarter, thanks to another Deuce McAllister run from one yard out. The Chargers struggled to respond and could only pull the game to within ten points going in to the final quarter of the game after a successful field goal attempt from Nate Kaeding.
The Saints were gifted a touchdown early in the fourth quarter thanks to a pass interference ruling at the San Diego one yard line, leaving the onus on The Chargers to overcome a 17 point deficit. Frustration soon ensued for Phillip Rivers and his offense as they failed to convert from 13 yards out, leaving a field goal the only option. Despite the field goal being successfully converted, the Chargers still faced a mountain to climb if they were to get back in to the game and resorted to an onside kick with nine minutes remaining in the game. After successfully recovering the kick off, the Chargers pulled the game to within a converted touch down after a 14 yard pass from Rivers was caught by Vincent Jackson in the end zone.
A seemingly comfortable lead for the Saints had been slash and with time running out and no time outs remaining, Drew Brees was forced to give up two points by sacrificing a safety in the Saints end zone. The Chargers regained position of the ball with just one second on the clock. Wembley was about to witness a ‘Hail Mary’, Rivers was left no option but to attempt a deep pass from 50 yards. The game could be won with the last play of the game and with the majority of the Wembley crowd cheering for ‘defense’, the atmosphere was electric. Despite a good pass from Rivers, the pass was broken up by the Saints and the all important win was assured.
The game finished 37-32 and the 83,000 fans left Wembley Stadium happy and no doubt with high expectations ahead of next year’s international series game. In only its second year, the regular season game in London can be classed as a huge success for the sport of American Football in the UK. Roll on 2009!