The NFL's International Series, after being suspended last season due to COVID, resumes Sunday. The Jets are right in the middle of the return of the American brand of football to the stage in London, and head coach Robert Saleh loves it.
"I'm biased. I know soccer. European football is considered the number one sport in the world," Saleh said during the week as he prepared his Jets to take on the "host" Atlanta Falcons at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this afternoon (9:30 a.m. ET kickoff). "I think football is the best sport in the world in terms of just the energy, the fanbase, the absolute love and passion fans have for it, especially in the States. And to see it growing internationally and to see the interest just goes to show it's a universal sport. And I think the goal is to hopefully get this brand growing worldwide. I think it's pretty cool."
The Green & White have done their bit to get the NFL up and running on foreign soil, this being the fifth international game in franchise history. There was a preseason doubleheader in Montreal's Olympic Stadium back in 1988, right around the start of the NFL probing interest in its game outside of the United States, with the Jets toppling the Browns, 11-7. Next was the 2003 American Bowl game at the Tokyo Dome, a 30-14 loss to the Buccaneers. In 2009 they made their most recent trip north of the border for a 19-13 win over Buffalo in the Bills Toronto Series.
And six years and a week ago, the Jets traveled to London for the first time and had a jolly good time at Wembley Stadium in their 27-14 win over the Dolphins.
That last London game was too long ago to carry over for this year's team to prevail over the Falcons. But the Jets have had their Green & White faithful greet them. Despite the generally gloomy weather, the fans gathered at The Barrowboy & Banker pub and other establishments in London to unleash a few "J-E-T-S" chants. Signage featuring Saleh's favorite slogan, "All Gas No Brakes," have popped up around town.
By the time you read this, we anticipate Saleh will have already run the stadium stairs, one of his pregame rituals no matter what the venue. And among the more than 60,000 fans in attendance at the North London soccer stadium will be such as punter Thomas Morstead's parents, who hail from Grimsby 200 miles away, and RB Michael Carter's girlfriend's sister, who lives in London.
See the Top Photos from Pregame Before the Jets-Falcons Matchup in the U.K.
What will the fans see today? A team that may have started to rise under Saleh, rookie QB Zach Wilson and veteran LB C.J. Mosley following last week's first win of the season, 27-24 in overtime over Tennessee. Both the Jets and Atlanta, led by ageless QB Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan and featuring offensive force Cordarrelle Patterson, are 1-3 this season, and the Falcons have been competitive in their last two outings, a 17-14 road win over the Giants and a 34-30 home loss to Washington.
But the Jets appear to be building back to full strength while the Falcons have scuffled just a little. For Wilson and the offense, they get another key player back in action with the return of rookie WR Elijah Moore from a concussion to join the recently productive WR corps of Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, Jamison Crowder and Braxton Berrios, with Denzel Mims also active. Defensively, Quinnen Williams and the just-extended John Franklin-Myers team up with Mosley and the rest of the unit that produced a season-high seven sacks vs. the Titans.
Atlanta, on the other hand, will be without starting WR Calvin Ridley, their leading pass-catcher, while two front-liners in the secondary, as well injured members of their secondary, starting S Erik Harris and nickel CB Avery Williams. Similarly, the Jets are dealing with a depleted safety corps, with Marcus Maye and Adrian Colbert both deactivated.
The Jets have a seven-player inactive list for this game:
- WR Jeff Smith
- S Marcus Maye
- RB La'Mical Perine
- CB Isaiah Dunn
- S Adrian Colbert
- TE Tyler Kroft
- DL Jonathan Marshall
And the Falcons' seven-man inactive list:
- WR Russell Gage
- QB Feleipe Franks
- WR Calvin Ridley
- S Erik Harris
- CB Avery Williams
- DL John Cominsky
- DL Marlon Davidson