For three days a year, the glitz and glamor of the NFL pitches up in London and gives UK-based fans an opportunity to celebrate in person the sport that they love.
On Sunday, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, there was certainly a party atmosphere. There were men in Viking helmets with faces painted purple and yellow. There were glittery black and gold jerseys. There were even some who had come from Germany for the game.
Wherever they had traveled from and whoever they supported, fans were treated to an exciting game of football, filled with thrills and spills, in what was the 100th NFL game played outside of the US regular and preseason.
Often London fans haven’t been treated to the closest encounters. But that wasn’t the case on Sunday as, with time expiring, New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz’ 61-yard field goal hit the posts twice before ricocheting outwards as the Minnesota Vikings beat the Saints 28-25.
In what was the second meeting of quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton in London – they played in a thrilling 27-27 tie at Wembley Stadium in 2016 when Cousins was with the then-Washington Redskins and Dalton was with the Cincinnati Bengals – it was once again a thriller.
In front of a 60,639-strong crowd – arguably split between Vikings and Saints fans – the two teams traded points back and fourth, with Wil Lutz’s 60-yard field goal in the last two minutes tying the scores.
But as time was winding down, Cousins connected for a big pass to Justin Jefferson to allow kicker Greg Joseph to blast home a field goal to give the Vikings a late lead.
Lutz had the opportunity to be the hero though with his 61-yard field goal, only for it to hit both uprights before bouncing away in heartbreaking fashion.
Cousins described the drama of the final few moments and being on the winning team in London for eleven.
“I saw it going left, it hit the upright, then hit the crossbar and I thought it bounced backwards – but apparently it bounced forwards. Crazy,” Cousins said during his on-pitch interview afterwards.
“It was a tough sledge all day finding ways to move the ball and in the redzone we kept stubbing our toe. But our defense kept getting us the ball back via turnovers and special teams were huge, all kinds of different plays – and we got a win.
“I’d already flown home once after an overtime loss here and I didn’t want to do it again!”
The razzmatazz was much different to what is usually experienced at the stadium during English Premier League games.
Cheerleaders, colored smoke and a live halftime performance all gave the fans in attendance the feeling of what a game is like across the Atlantic.
And although the game was missing some of its star players – the Saints were without starting quarterback Jameis Winston, running back Alvin Kamara, and wide receiver Michael Thomas – it didn’t stop the teams putting on a show.
From the opening kick, the nominal away team – the Vikings – looked a well-oiled machine. With Cousins flowing from the outset, they marched down the field on the opening drive of the game, capping a 13-play, 75-yard drive to score the first points of the game with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Alexander Mattison.
And just when it was looking like Minnesota might be rumbling, one of the Saints’ big offseason acquisitions stepped up.
Tyrann Mathieu, who joined from the Kansas City Chiefs, rushed from his safety position to intercept Cousins, changing the momentum of the game in the process.
Saints back-up quarterback Andy Dalton – standing in for the injured Jameis Winston – produced an efficient, well-constructed drive before connecting with rookie wide receiver Chris Olave to level the scores.
The Vikings could only settle for a field goal on their next drive but the vocal Minnesota fans were given more to cheer just moments later, Dalton fumbled the ball with Harrison Phillips falling on the ball, giving them excellent field position.
Once again, a Greg Joseph field goal was the end result, but it gave the Vikings a 13-7 lead going into halftime.
And in keeping with the showbiz feel of the game – with Jason Sudeikis of ‘Ted Lasso’ fame in attendance – a performance from award-winning Yungblud kept energy high in the stadium with the players in the locker room.
In the second half, turnovers continued to plague the Saints and redzone troubles continued to affect the Vikings.
A fumble from Deonte Harty on a punt gave the ball back to the Vikings. But Minnesota once again had to settle for a field goal, with star wide receiver dropping what would have been a touchdown.
In response, Dalton produced his best drive of the game, before Latavius Murray ran in the Saints’ second touchdown of the afternoon to make it a two-point game.
Joseph got his fourth field goal of the day to make it 19-14 going into the fourth quarter.
Having not led all game, the Saints took a fourth quarter lead as Taysom Hill ran in from close range and Jarvis Landry caught a two-point conversion to make it a three-point game with nine minutes left.
Vikings wide receiver Jefferson walked in for a three-yard touchdown to once again give Minnesota the lead. However, Joseph missed the extra point meaning with just over four minutes left, the Saints trailed by three points, setting up a thrilling finale.
It looked like the Saints’ opportunity to get a result from the game had passed as their drive stalled, only for Lutz to make a huge 60-yard field goal – the second longest in Saints history.
And with overtime looming, Cousins hit Jefferson for a massive 39-yard pass to set up Joseph for a late, go-ahead. And, from 47-yards, Joseph remained perfect to give the Vikings the lead with just 24 seconds left.
Lutz had one final opportunity to tie the game with his 61-yard field goal but, in a thrilling ending, it rebounded twice of the uprights before bouncing away, wrapping up the a dramatic Vikings victory.