The fifth week of the NFL season saw the start of the International Series and the first of four games here in the UK this month.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is the first stadium to be built with hosting NFL games in mind and shows the NFL’s commitment to continuing to develop the game in London. Fans seemed to enjoy the experience with particular compliments being paid to the atmosphere. There were, of course, some hiccups with bars running out of beer, and some merchandise – purchased at the official NFL store – not being allowed into the stadium. But, all in all, fans seemed to enjoy the new home of the NFL as the Oakland Raiders beat the Chicago Bears 24-21 in a game that went down to the final minute.
Elsewhere, that optimism and excitement was not necessarily being duplicated as four new head coaches entered week five looking for their first wins.
With no game, Brian Flores’ Miami Dolphins were never going to win this week but the upside of a bye week is that you can’t lose either…
Two other coaches searching for a win were Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury. They went head-to-head in a game that went down to the wire. Kingsbury walked away with his first NFL victory as a last-second field goal gave Arizona a 26-23 win. It was fitting that the play which allowed the Cardinals to kick an easy field goal came as a result of Kingsbury’s big draft gamble when his No 1 pick, quarterback Kyler Murray, dropped back to pass before taking advantage of a massive hole in front of him to scramble for a 24-yard gain.
The difference in the game proved to be the late play of Murray and his ability to shift between being a running and passing threat.
The final coach hunting for a win at the weekend was Denver Broncos’ Vic Fangio. He got the win he needed, 20-13 over the LA Chargers, although the Chargers always seem to struggle in the temporary home they share with the LA Galaxy, the 27,000 seater Dignity Health Sports Park. But a win is a win and Fangio will be happy to have got the monkey off his back.
The wait goes on for Flores and Taylor but the real point here is how are these first-time head coaches expected to succeed?
Their teams combined last year for 22 wins and 42 losses. Each came into organisations in disarray with gaping personnel holes. The expectation in the NFL is to win immediately but each coach needs time to install their own offense, defense, to evaluate a roster, and make suitable changes.
They have the off-season to evaluate the players but it is not until they see them in battle that they can truly get their measure. So it was little surprise that, after four weeks, these teams were among the remaining six still looking for wins. Maybe owners need to think about roster rebuilds before being so swift to swing the axe.
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder would have done well to heed that advice but, after a 33-7 loss to the New England Patriots head coach Jay Gruden was fired yesterday.
The Indianapolis Colts finally managed to corral Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes in a 19-13 win which revealed the weaknesses in the Chiefs offensive line. Mahomes had made up for that with his ability to run but ended the game limping after a sustained assault from the Colts.
Atlanta continued to struggle on the defensive side of the ball as they scored 32 points but gave up 53 to Houston as they dropped to 1-4.
The growing hype around colourful Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew took a hit when he fumbled the ball to end the game and hand a 34-27 win to Carolina Panthers.
The Philadelphia Eagles picked up their fourth win, 31-6 over the New York Jets, for whom it was a fourth defeat of the season.
Pittsburgh lost another close game, 26-23 to the Ravens, also dropping them to four losses for the season.