After a one-season hiatus of international action due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL will touch down in the United Kingdom once again on Sunday.
In the first of two straight weeks featuring games from London, star rookie Zach Wilson and the New York Jets will face Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium live on NFL Network.
Gang Green will play in London for just the second time in franchise history. It will likewise be a second trip for the Falcons.
Here are three things to watch Sunday morning when the Falcons and Jets collide in England:
- Can Zach keep rolling, making history? Wilson has an opportunity to become the first rookie quarterback to win a game in London, with the previous four having gone winless, per NFL Research. In the process, Wilson, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft, can build on the success from a week prior. It was an arduous first three games for Wilson and the Jets as a whole, but they were able to defeat the Titans, 27-24, in overtime for their first win of the season. Wilson, who will be just the second first-round rookie QB to start in London (Blake Bortles in 2014 with the Jaguars was the first), is aiming to lead the Jets to their second victory of the year, which would already equal the 2020 team's season total (2-14). That aforementioned first victory was Wilson’s finest performance yet, as he passed for 297 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 97.3 rating. In his previous three games, Wilson had two TDs combined and a 51.6 rating, per NFL Research. Against a Falcons defense that’s allowed a league-worst 128 points, Wilson might be in an unfamiliar location, but the right setting to keep the Jets’ good fortunes going.
- Matty Ice heating up. There was plenty of chatter during the offseason as to whether the Falcons should select a quarterback of the future in the draft. Atlanta stuck with Ryan and his early struggles -- and the team’s -- no doubt raised concern, but Ryan is heating up. Over the past two games, he has thrown six touchdowns to zero interceptions, and his passer rating has improved each week, emerging from a Week 1 71.6 to a Week 4 111.5. The 36-year-old is doing all he can behind a leaky offensive line. He’s also working under the umbrella of first-year head coach Arthur Smith. His improvement could be a sign of settling in to Smith's scheme. Coming off a season-high four-TD showing in a loss to Washington, Ryan is faced with a Jets defense that is underrated overall, but susceptible to the big play.
- Cordarrelle and Corey taking the lead. Though the Falcons’ 1-3 showing so far hardly speaks to grand success, Cordarrelle Patterson is having his greatest year yet as a skill player. Smith has unlocked Patterson’s potential in the running and passing games unlike any coach before when Patterson flashed as one of the generation’s greatest special teams players, but couldn’t translate that ability to offense. So far, he’s shined to the tune of five total touchdowns and 354 total yards over four games, with his four receiving touchdowns already matching a career-high. On an offense that also features wide receiver Calvin Ridley(out Sunday for personal reasons), rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Mike Davis, Patterson has become the team’s most vaunted weapon. Patterson has four of the Falcons' eight receiving scores this season and he's the first player since the 1970 merger with 100-plus rushing yards, one or more rushing touchdowns and four receiving TDs in his first four games. Whether Patterson can follow up a three-TD showing against Washington with Ridley and Russell Gage out and the Jets likely clamping down will be a key to the game. While Patterson's emergence on offense has been somewhat surprising, Corey Davis' emergence for the Jets has to be considered a relief of sorts. Davis signed a huge deal with the Jets in the offseason and turned in a terrific season opener (five receptions for 97 yards and two TDs versus the Panthers), but went quiet thereafter. Against his former team, the Titans, he was a catalyst for the win with his first 100-yard showing as a Jet and a fourth-quarter go-ahead score. Having gone against his old squad last week, he'll now face his old offensive coordinator, Smith, and look to continue his upward trend as the Jets' No. 1 WR.