A show of unity from Jacksonville Jaguars players and staff by taking a knee at Wembley was backed by a dominant performance afterwards that overwhelmed Baltimore Ravens 44-7
The message was simple, defiant and express-delivered to an orange-tinged septuagenarian living 3,600 miles away in Washington DC. As the Star Spangled Banner rang out across Wembley, 27 players and staff of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens dropped to one knee to protest against President Donald Trump the largest number at an NFL game. Dozens more on the Jaguars staff, including their owner, Shahid Khan, linked hands on the touchline in support.
Some say sport and politics should not mix. But after Trumps explosive tweets over the weekend, during which he suggested that players who refused to stand for the national anthem should be fired and called on owners to get that son of a bitch off the field if they disrespected the flag, it was impossible to see how the two were not conjoined.
And just as the Jaguars came together off the pitch, they quickly did so on it as they produced a complete performance to blunt and then skewer the Ravens 44-7. Really, though, the result was secondary to the protests. As AJBouye, the Jaguars cornerback, put it powerfully: Im not going to lie. I was pissed off. I dont know the president as a man but what hes saying about us, hes disrespecting ourmums.
And when youre five years old and youre seeing your dad have a gun pointed at his head because he looks suspicious in a neighbourhood at 6am because hes dropping his son off at a babysitter. Its not about race, its not about black and white, its about right and wrong. Im tired of it, Im really tired of it.
The wide receiver Marcedes Lewis, who caught three touchdowns for the Jaguars, was also eloquent. My stepfather is a purple heart, so part of me is torn and, with the social injustices going on right now in the country, you can pull from both sides, he said. You have got people scared to go outside, scared to be in certain places. Whats wrong is wrong.
Man to man, you cant tell another grown man, Hey, you need to stand up or You need to kneel. You are going to do what you need to do. But we wanted to put it out there as a group.
Meanwhile Khan the only non-white and only Muslim owner in the NFL said that he fully supported his players, too. We have a lot of work to do but the comments by the president make it harder, he said. Thats why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that, even if we differ at times, we can and should be united in an effort to be better as people and as a nation.
It is now a decade since the first regular season NFL game was held in London, when the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins. Since then it is the Jaguars, who have signed a deal to play at Wembley until 2020, who have crossed the pond most often. And increasingly they seem to be getting a thirst for it, given this was their third straight win here.
After opening the scoring when Jason Myers hit an early 23-yard field goal the Jaguars quickly increased their lead when their quarterback Blake Bortles faked a hand-off to the running back Chris Ivory, faked a reverse to the wide receiver Marqise Lee and then found Lewis for the touchdown. That put them 10-0 up at the end of the first quarter. And while they had made 169 total yards in the opening 15 minutes, the Ravens net yardage was minus one.
It got even better for the Jaguars in the second quarter, as two more field goals and another Bortles touchdown pass, this time to Allen Hurns, left them 23-0 up at half-time. The Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who led his team to the Super Bowl in 2013, could only bang his foot in frustration as his team managed just one first down and 15 total yards in the entire first half.
It was threatening to become a blowout. And soon it was thanks to two touchdown passes from Bortles to Lewes early in the third quarter that put the Jaguars 37-0 up.
The Jaguars coach, Doug Marrone, later expressed his delight and said it was the second-best experience in his life at Wembley behind coming to watch a Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992. It is always outstanding in London, he said. I dont know if I have lost in this stadium and the fans were outstanding, too.
The Jaguars did not let up and went even further ahead at the start of the fourth quarter as the running back Leonard Fournette ran in from close range. There was time for a consolation score for the Ravens with three minutes remaining but by then the wind had been sucked from them and the game.
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