Towers of London
Patriots’ game much too strong for Buccaneers
LONDON - Getting where you want to go in this city can be daunting for foreigners. You have to look the opposite way to cross the street, drive on the other side of the road, and ride the labyrinth-like tube subway system. But it turns out finding the end zone is just as easy for the Patriots on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
A week after topping Tennessee, 59-0, the Patriots turned the NFL’s third annual London showcase into their own British invasion with a 35-7 romp over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who surrendered a real home game to play foil to the Patriots on foreign soil.
The Patriots’ sight-seeing may have been somewhat limited, but they return home with fond memories of their frequent visits to the Wembley Stadium end zones yesterday and their first road win of the season.
“Yeah, come to London to get a road win. We couldn’t get it in the US, so we had to come to London to get it,’’ said linebacker Adalius Thomas. “It’s always good to get a win, and going into the bye makes it a lot sweeter when you’re 5-2 vs. 4-3.’’
The Patriots are idle next week, but it seemed like the winless and wayward Buccaneers were idle yesterday. The Patriots scored the first 21 points, led, 21-7, at the half, and 28-7 with 9:13 left in the third quarter.
Quarterback Tom Brady didn’t disappoint his foreign fans, passing for more than 300 yards for the second straight week. Brady was 23 of 32 for 308 yards with three touchdown passes and two interceptions - both in a four-pass span, snapping his franchise-record streak of 183 passes without a pick.
The record had belonged to Drew Bledsoe (179), and Brady tied another of Bledsoe’s records with the 26th 300-yard game of his career.
“I think it’s a privilege for the players to come over here and get to enjoy this type of experience,’’ said Brady, who was replaced by Brian Hoyer with 6:34 to go. “It will probably never happen for us again, so we’ll retire 1-0 internationally.’’
By early in the third quarter with the Patriots holding a 28-7 lead, the American sensation that the 84,254 that packed Wembley Stadium were interested in wasn’t American football, but the ritual of synchronized standing and sitting known as the wave.
“The wave went on for about 10 minutes, which you don’t see in the States too often,’’ said Brady.
The Buccaneers (0-7) waved goodbye to any chance they had at their first victory moments earlier when Brady opened the second half by leading the Patriots on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that was capped by a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson. Brady was 8 of 10 on the drive.
That marked the first time all season the Patriots had scored in the second half on the road, after being shut out in losses at the Jets and Denver. The Patriots, who had 414 total yards to the Buccaneers’ 240, outgained Tampa Bay, 217 to 78, after the half.
The Patriots had a strong finish and a fast start. They had a 7-0 lead before the locals even got their first look at Brady.
New England, which forced five turnovers last week against Tennessee, scored its first defensive touchdown of the season on the fifth play from scrimmage when safety Brandon Meriweather intercepted Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Johnson at the 39 and returned it for a touchdown.
It was Meriweather’s first interception of the season and the Patriots’ first defensive touchdown since Eugene Wilson’s 5-yard interception return against the Jets Dec. 16, 2007.
The Buccaneers drove to the Patriots’ 33 on their next possession before Meriweather struck again, intercepting Johnson - who was picked off three times and finished 9 of 26 for 156 yards and a touchdown before being replaced by rookie No. 1 pick Josh Freeman with 9:25 left in the game - at the 15 and returning it 31 yards.
“Brandon stepped up with some huge plays,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “And those are the plays he’s capable of making, and he’s been around those and today they fell for him.’’
The Patriots extended their lead to 14-0 with 2:16 left in the first quarter. Wes Welker, who had 10 catches for 107 yards, took a screen pass from Brady and weaved his way through the Tampa defense for a 14-yard TD.
The Patriots seemed prime for more points but Brady was intercepted in the end zone by Tanard Jackson from the Buccaneers’ 11 early in the second quarter.
The Patriots resumed scoring at will on their next possession, producing their longest play from scrimmage of the season.
Brady was flushed from the pocket on third and 10 from the 46. He found wide receiver Sam Aiken on a short crossing route and then the special-teams captain did the rest for a 54-yard touchdown - the first of his seven-year NFL career - and a 21-0 lead with 11:18 left in the half.
At that point the Patriots had scored 80 unanswered points against their last two opponents.
The Buccaneers got on the board with 1:14 left before the half, when Antonio Bryant hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Johnson. Bryant beat rookie cornerback Darius Butler.
That was the only highlight for Tampa Bay, which was relegated to second fiddle in the United Kingdom from the moment it took the field for an alleged “home’’ game.
The NFL adorned Wembley Stadium with Buccaneers logos and handed out red-and-white Buccaneers flags to the fans to try to simulate the home-field advantage Tampa Bay would have enjoyed if the game were played at Raymond James Stadium.
However, despite the league’s best efforts, the English crowd was pro-New England as well. A huge cheer went up when Brady ran onto the field about 55 minutes before kickoff.
“You didn’t really think of it as a road game, until they came out of the tunnel and they had all the flags waving and the fireworks,’’ said Thomas.
Now, New England turns its attention to its next game, against the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium Nov. 8.
“We’ve got a tough game coming up against Miami, and we know the whole second half of the season really has a lot of challenges from week to week, but we’ll tackle Miami first,’’ said Belichick. “It’s been an enjoyable couple of days here and I’m glad we could end it on a positive note for our football team.’’
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.