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Neil Reynolds: Another special week as the NFL took over London

Features Posted 28th October 2013 view comments

That's another Wembley game in the books and while the match-up between the San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars was one-sided, it was another special week as the NFL took over London and showed the sport of American football continues to grow in popularity.

The 49ers ran out comfortable 42-10 victors over the winless Jags at Wembley Stadium but the British fans enjoyed the experience, regardless of the one-sided nature of the 'main event.'

NFL@Wembley: Two great games this year and three more to come in 2014.

NFL@Wembley: Two great games this year and three more to come in 2014.

Here is what caught my eye during the week the NFL came to town.

Niners set Kaepernick free

For the past two weeks, the 49ers have appeared more willing to allow quarterback Colin Kaepernick to run free and make plays with his legs when called upon to do so.

That was the case when the 49ers smoked the Tennessee Titans in Week 7 and it was the same at Wembley Stadium on Sunday night. Kaepernick played within himself as a passer but did make some key plays with his legs, extending drives with crucial pick-ups on third down.

British fans enjoyed the experience, regardless of the one-sided nature of the 'main event.

Neil Reynolds
Quotes of the week

Kaepernick ended his Wembley debut having thrown for 164 yards (10 of 16 attempts) one touchdown and no interceptions. Crucially, he added 54 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries, highlighting the fact he is at his best when that rushing element is added to his game.

Best in the business

What a treat it was to witness the best inside linebacking partnership in the NFL in San Francisco's Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis on Sunday evening. The pair are quite incredible in that they rarely miss tackles.

That may sound like they are just doing their jobs but check out the rest of the NFL and see how many tackles are missed each Sunday. This pair are so reliable. Bowman registered 10 tackles and Willis chipped in with six stops and a forced fumble that was returned for San Francisco's final touchdown of the night.

Importantly, the pair rarely comes off the field. They are mobile enough to make tackles in space while covering running backs downfield, as they proved time and again on Sunday night as Jacksonville dumped off another pass that ended short of first down yardage.

Error at the start?

At the beginning of each game, the winner of the coin toss can choose to receive the ball, kick the ball to the opposition or defer to the second half, meaning they get the choice of the football after the break.

Most teams - almost by default now - defer to the second half, hopeful of ending the opening period with the football and then starting with the ball again after the break.

But I felt the Jags should have asked for the ball to start this game. They are bound to be a little low on confidence and morale right now and I would have tried to delay San Francisco scoring or having any offensive success for as long as possible.

Instead, the 49ers took the game-opening drive the length of the field, scoring on Frank Gore's 19-yard run. After a quick failed possession from the Jags, San Francisco scored again on Kaepernick's 12-yard run and the game was effectively over in the first quarter.

I'm not saying receiving the ball first would have resulted in a Jacksonville win, but it might have delayed the onslaught of San Francisco points!

Give Bradley time

There are few head coaches who survive seasons as bad as the one the Jacksonville Jaguars are currently enduring. But I do believe Gus Bradley is the right man for the job and should be given time to build a winner in Jacksonville/London.

Bradley is an energetic coach with an infectious personality. To be honest, he has some pieces in place but clearly lacks any talent at the most important position in American football - the quarterback. With so little talent at vital positions at his disposal, it would be unfair to make Bradley carry the can for this season.

And I sense the Jags management feel the same way and will give him time to turn things around.

The American TV commentators said Bradley was being out-coached by Jim Harbaugh on Sunday night. I don't buy that. I thought he did the best that he could do with the talent available. And Bradley can be a match for Harbaugh and any other coach from an X's and O's point of view, as he showed last year when shutting down Kaepernick as defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.

MJD shines!

There were not too many bright spots for the Jaguars on Sunday but I thought Maurice Jones-Drew turned in his best performance of the season to date and showed glimpses of returning to his pre-foot injury form.

Pocket Hercules rushed 19 times for 75 yards and added six receptions for another 47 yards. That was no mean feat against a San Francisco defense that was tackling well and flying to the football.

If MJD can keep up that kind of production in the second half of the season, that will ease the pressure on the misfiring quarterbacks of this 0-8 team.

What a week!

On a personal note, I must just say how much I enjoyed the week of activities leading up to the big game at Wembley Stadium - but I could also do with a little rest over the next few days to recover!

It was not a typical work week for me as I caught some passes from the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Joe Montana, I got a one on one interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and I even got a hug from the man dubbed the most powerful man in sports. I hosted the Fan Rally that drew more than 45,000 NFL fans to Trafalgar Square and the Tailgate Party outside Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

By the time I joined Kevin Cadle in our studio at Wembley, it was nice to have a little sit down and watch the game with some very good company indeed. While the game was a non-starter, I woke up this morning with many fond memories of the events and activities around the big match - and I'm sure many NFL fans felt the same way.

How lucky are we now in the United Kingdom to have these games? And the thought of three coming our way in 2014 is enough to warm our spirits on this wild and windy Monday.

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