NFL GOES INTERNATIONAL: PATS & BUCS MEET IN LONDON… THREE UNBEATENS IN ACTION IN WEEK 7
There will be one game in London…and plenty more back home in Week 7.
This week the NFL features a regular-season game in London, England and three of the remaining four undefeated teams will aim to stay perfect.
The Patriots-Buccaneers’ meeting is the third regular-season game at Wembley Stadium, part of a multi-year commitment to play a limited number of games in the United Kingdom on an annual basis.
“We’re happy to take the game of football international and make the sport bigger than it already is,” says Tampa Bay head coach RAHEEM MORRIS. “We’re really excited about the opportunity.”
This year’s contest follows last season’s exciting matchup between the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers – won by the Saints 37-32 – in front of 83,226 enthusiastic fans.
“What really stood out to me was the atmosphere of the game,” recalls Chargers running back LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON. “I thought it was great. The fans were into the game and it was a really exciting game to be a part of. I think if you ask any one of the players in the locker room, they’ll say no doubt they’d go back and do it again.”
Meanwhile, back home stateside, three of the remaining four unbeatens – Indianapolis (5-0), Minnesota (6-0) and New Orleans (5-0) – will be in action. Denver (6-0) has a bye in Week 7 after a 34-23 win at San Diego on Monday night. The four undefeated teams through the first six weeks are the most since the 1970 merger.
“All I know is that we’re 6-0,” says Vikings quarterback BRETT FAVRE, who led his team to a 33-31 come-from-behind victory over Baltimore last week. “I’m proud of that. It’s a good start but there’s a long way to go.”
The long road for the Vikings leads to Pittsburgh this Sunday to face the 4-2 Steelers, winners of three consecutive games. The Colts, who had a bye in Week 6, are back in action in St. Louis against the Rams. And the Saints, who knocked off the previously unbeaten New York Giants last week, will head to South Florida, the site of Super Bowl XLIV, to face the Miami Dolphins and the Wildcat formation.
“There’s a reward for winning, a feeling that you’ve done something good, but it’s very short-lived as you get ready for the next game,” says New Orleans head coach SEAN PAYTON. “Miami is a real good football team and this will be a tremendous test for us.”
Some of the key games in Week 7:
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (4-2) at TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (0-6) in London, England (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)
London’s calling and the Patriots and Buccaneers plan to put on a show for the British fans.
New England is coming off a 59-point offensive explosion in Week 6, led by quarterback TOM BRADY, who set an NFL record with five touchdown passes in one quarter (the second) and finished the game with six, tying his own franchise record. The Patriots built a 45-0 halftime advantage, the largest lead at the half in NFL history.
“Every week we’re learning something more about ourselves and what we can do,” says Brady. “There’s no doubt a game like this can give you a lot of confidence.”
Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver and kick returner SAMMIE STROUGHTER, a seventh-round pick (No. 233) out of Oregon State, will look to electrify the crowd. Last week, in front of the Tampa Bay fans, Stroughter had a 97-yard kick-return touchdown and finished with 207 all-purpose yards. The rookie averaged 34.5 yards per touch, recording 142 yards on three returns and 65 yards on three receptions.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (6-0) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (4-2) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
The defending-champion Steelers will put their three-game winning streak on the line against the undefeated Vikings.
Minnesota quarterback BRETT FAVRE, who is 6-0 for the first time in his career after last week’s 33-31 win over Baltimore, aims to join DIETER BROCK (1985 Rams) as the only QBs since the merger to win their first seven starts to start a season with a new team. Favre threw a 58-yard pass to wide receiver SIDNEY RICE, who finished with a career-high 176 yards, late in the fourth quarter to set up RYAN LONGWELL’s game-winning field goal.
“We’ve been in that situation before and I had faith that we would make a play,” says Rice.
The Steelers improved to 4-2 last week with a 27-14 win over Cleveland. Quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER threw for 417 yards, the fourth-highest total in club history, and two touchdowns as Pittsburgh racked up 543 yards of total offense. Wide receivers HINES WARD (159 yards) and SANTONIO HOLMES (104) each went over the 100-yard mark, the second time this season they’ve each reached the plateau in the same game.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet and that’s pretty comforting,” says Steelers tight end HEATH MILLER, who caught his fourth touchdown in the past three games. “We’ve gotten a few wins without playing our best.”
ATLANTA FALCONS (4-1) at DALLAS COWBOYS (3-2) (Sunday, FOX, 4:15 PM ET)
Cornerbacks beware. In Week 5, wide receivers MILES AUSTIN of Dallas (10 catches, 250 yards, two touchdowns) and RODDY WHITE of Atlanta (eight catches, 210 yards, two touchdowns) became the second duo in NFL history to each record at least 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns on the same day.
The Cowboys, who had a bye last week, defeated Kansas City in Week 5. Quarterback TONY ROMO passed for 351 yards and two touchdowns, including the 60-yard game-winner in overtime to Austin.
Falcons quarterback MATT RYAN, who has guided the team to wins in seven of the past eight games, threw two touchdown passes in a Sunday-night victory over Chicago.
The game features two of the most prolific tight ends in the NFL – Atlanta’s TONY GONZALEZ and Dallas’ JASON WITTEN. Since 2004, Gonzalez leads all players at the position with 471 receptions and 5,560 yards while Witten ranks second with 422 catches and third with 4,847 yards.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-0) at MIAMI DOLPHINS (2-3) (Sunday, FOX, 4:15 PM ET)
The red-hot Saints, who lead the NFL averaging 38.4 points per game, travel to Miami to face the Dolphins, who have won two in a row and boast the league’s top rushing offense (177.0 yards per game).
New Orleans knocked off the previously unbeaten New York Giants last week 48-27 as seven different Saints scored touchdowns in the game. Quarterback DREW BREES passed for 369 yards and four touchdowns, posting a near-perfect 156.8 passer rating.
“We wanted to really dictate the tempo of the game,” says Brees. “Seven different guys scored touchdowns. That’s the type of rhythm when you feel like you can call anything and it’s going to work.”
Miami, who had a bye last week, defeated the division-rival New York Jets 31-27 in Week 5. In that Monday-night contest, quarterback CHAD HENNE passed for two touchdowns and posted a 130.4 rating while running back RONNIE BROWN rushed for two scores, including the game-winner with six seconds remaining.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (3-2) at NEW YORK GIANTS (5-1) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)
The past two NFC champions – Cardinals (2008) and Giants (2007) – meet on Sunday night in the Big Apple. New York is 5-1 and leads the NFC East while the Cardinals are tied for first in the NFC West (San Francisco) with a 3-2 record.
Both clubs feature a Super Bowl MVP at quarterback – Arizona’s KURT WARNER (XXXIV with St. Louis) and New York’s ELI MANNING (XLII).
Warner, who spent the 2004 season with the Giants, passed for 276 yards last week to reach 30,000 career yards. He accomplished the feat in his 114th game, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO for the fastest to reach 30,000.
This season, Manning has 11 touchdowns versus just three interceptions and ranks seventh in the NFL with a 102.2 passer rating. Since the start of the 2008 season, Manning has won nine of his past 10 starts at Giants Stadium.