Dolphins' dreadful Wembley shutout a lesson for future International Series teams
The NFL is committed to the International Series and London. That much has long since been apparent.
With contracts in place to have games in London until 2027, Twickenham joining Wembley as a venue and Tottenham building a retractable pitch at their new stadium in order to host International Series games, it is clear the annual commute to London is here to stay.
And, if there were any doubt over the popularity of the NFL in the United Kingdom and the passion and knowledge of the supporters in the country, then that was drowned out by a wall of noise at Wembley as the Miami Dolphins 'hosted' the New Orleans Saints.
In the early days of the International Series, there was criticism of the atmosphere at Wembley, and complaints about fans cheering when the offense was on the field - a time when teams across the league crave silence to be able to hear the quarterbacks' signals.
There was still plenty of noise on key third downs on Sunday, but that was a result of both teams being well represented and urging their defense to make a stop. In stark contrast to those first International Series games, the atmosphere inside Wembley was electric, the downside being that, for the most part, the teams failed to deliver a spectacle to match.
It proved an error- and penalty-strewn affair, one in which the much-ridiculed Saints defense managed to shut out the Dolphins, whose sloppy performance from their defeat to the New York Jets last week travelled with Miami across the Atlantic in a 20-0 loss.
This was Miami's third straight road game, a spell in which they have travelled 16,970 total miles.
That is, in essence, what will always be the problem with the UK games. Aside from the Jaguars, who appear to have found a formula that works for them on trips to London after three successive Wembley wins, franchises make the journey across the pond sporadically and it is obvious they do not adapt to the change in timezone and conditions, as the Dolphins failed to do on Sunday.
International games will always be little more than an inconvenience to NFL teams. They are largely tolerated rather than embraced, but as the atmosphere at Wembley and the commitment the league has demonstrated to UK shows, they are something that players and coaches must learn to love.
You treated us well London! 9 hour party on the flight back to the states !! #WHODAT-- Wil Lutz (@wil_lutz5) October 1, 2017
Wins in London can be a unifier for victorious teams, emerging triumphant from a game with such extra demands can have an added significance and the jubilant mood in the Saints' locker room reflected that.
New Orleans, to their credit, appear to have done as much as possible to embrace the change in environment and the challenge of playing in London.
The Saints enjoyed a day out at an Arsenal game in midweek and were glowingly positive when reflecting on their stay in the city, with Cameron Jordan and Adrian Peterson in particular expressing fondness for their time sightseeing.
"London is amazing, beautiful people, great people, hospitality was awesome. Beautiful sightseeing, it's always good to come to London," said Peterson, who also played at Wembley with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014.
By contrast Miami quarterback Jay Cutler labelled the trip "a distraction" and the Dolphins certainly delivered a performance indicative of a distracted team.
Save for one drive in the first quarter that ended with Cutler being intercepted, the Dolphins never got anything going in a miserable showing, and their unwanted piece of history in being the first team shutout in London should serve as a warning to teams for the future to welcome the challenge of playing abroad, rather than viewing it as unnecessary quirk of an arduous campaign.