The St. Louis Rams hope that their flight to London is the only air show they see this week.
The Rams look to contain Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' top-ranked offense on Sunday as the two clubs do battle at England's Wembley Stadium in the latest addition of the International Series.
This Sunday will mark the sixth regular-season game to be played in London and 11th overall to take place outside of the United States. While the Rams make their first trip to Wembley Stadium, the Patriots have made the trek before. New England bested the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-27 on Oct. 25, 2009, getting 308 yards and three passing touchdowns from Brady.
The New England signal-caller hooked up with wide receiver Wes Welker 10 times in that game for 107 yards with a score.
"It will be a tough game, but it will be memorable for a lot of reasons," Brady said of this year's edition of the game in London. "I certainly remember our last trip, so it will be a nice experience for all the players kind of coming together."
In addition to trying to shake off jet lag, the Pats hope to improve on a subpar 29-26 overtime win against the New York Jets last weekend. New England yielded 13 fourth-quarter points to its AFC East rivals before getting a 43- yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski as time expired to force the extra frame.
Gostkowski then capped New England's overtime drive with a 48-yard field goal and New York was unable to extend the game on its ensuing drive as ends Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham combined for a sack on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Ninkovich jarred the ball loose on the takedown and recovered to seal the Pats' third victory in four games that gave them sole possession of first place in the division at 4-3.
"We talk about playing 60 minutes, it took a little bit more than that today, but the players did a good job," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "In the end, we made enough plays to win."
It was the opposite for Rams, who trailed by four points at halftime in their recent matchup with the Green Bay Packers before eventually falling in defeat 30-20.
St. Louis came into the game ranked fifth against the pass, but saw Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throw for 342 yards with three scoring strikes. That led to the Rams' second straight defeat and first in four home games this season.
"It's a tough one," admitted St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, who passed for 255 yards with a touchdown and interception. "I thought we did a fairly decent job in the first half. We came out cold in the third quarter, just didn't really get anything going. We've just got to do a better job of overcoming."
Bradford and company next look to grab the edge in their all-time series with the Patriots. The two teams have split their 10 regular-season meetings, though the Pats have won the past two.
The Patriots played host to the Rams in the last encounter on Oct. 26, 2008, picking up a 23-16 triumph in a game that Brady missed because of a knee injury.
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels served in that role for that meeting, his last season with the Pats before spending two years as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. He was fired from that role following the 2010 campaign and spent last season as the offensive coordinator for the Rams before his return to the Pats.
New England also defeated St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI on Feb. 3, 2002, the first of three championships in four seasons for the franchise.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Patriots' offense continues to be one of the top units in the league, averaging an NFL-best 436.1 yards and 31.0 points per game. After gaining 381 yards of offense versus the Jets, the Pats have now reached at least 350 total yards in 16 straight games to match the longest such streak in NFL history first set by the St. Louis Rams in 1999-2000.
Brady, meanwhile, has logged at touchdown pass in 39 straight games, the third-longest streak in league annuals and tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming off a two-touchdown performance that lifted his season total to five.
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd should be motivated for this game after spending part of last season with the Rams following a trade by the Broncos. Lloyd hauled in 51 passes for 683 yards and five scores with St. Louis before signing with New England this offseason.
"They do a great job, it's obvious," said Rams head coach Jeff Fisher of the Pats' offense. "Everybody is on the same page. Even the new pace they're playing with. When you have 75 more rushing attempts than the league average, you're playing at a high pace and that's what they're doing. Our young defense has obviously not faced it this year."
All this is staring at the Rams, who slipped from fifth to 14th in the league against the pass after struggling against the Packers.
Still, St. Louis has yielded only four touchdown passes to quarterbacks not named Aaron Rodgers and has received eight interceptions from its secondary. Six different players have nabbed a pick, led by cornerback Cortland Finnegan's three.
"You know, he competes his butt off and he's smart, catches the ball well. He's a seventh-round pick, so you just are always fighting for your life out there. Even though he's had a lot of success, you see he wants to continue to get better and improve and he's still a young player. I have a lot of respect for him," Brady said of Finnegan.
The Rams, coming off a three-sack performance versus the Packers, have brought down the opposing quarterback 15 times in their last three games and defensive end Robert Quinn notched his seventh sack of the year last weekend, tied for second in the NFC.
St. Louis shook up its offensive line versus Green Bay, with Joe Barksdale replacing an injured Wayne Hunter at left tackle and Shelley Smith stepping in for Quinn Ojinnaka, who had started the previous four games at left guard but was released on Monday.
Bradford will have to be aware of Ninkovich, who has a team-leading four forced fumbles, all in the past four games.
"I just think Rob can do different things," Belichick said of Ninkovich's role to the defense. "We ask him to do different things and he can do them. That gives him value and versatility himself and to our defense and all that."
New England has struggled against the pass this season, yielding 290.0 yards per game and corners Devin McCourty -- who had a 104-yard kickoff return for a score versus the Jets -- and Kyle Arrington will have to account for Rams wideout Chris Givens, whose 56-yard catch last weekend made him the first NFL rookie since Willie Gault in 1983 to log a reception of 50-plus yards in four consecutive games.
"(Givens is) making a big play here and there," noted Fisher. "We'd like to try to get him more involved; like to try to get more balls to him but he's coming on."
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein could be a x-factor for the Rams. He hit on field goals of 50 and 43 yards versus the Packers and is 12-for-14 on field goals 40 yards or longer this season.
Games taking place overseas a bit harder to predict due to the travel and change of routine that takes place.
Extra credit, then, goes to the Patriots, who have done this dance before and were already the better team heading into the contest. Though the faces aren't all the same from the club's last trip to London, Belichick should have his team ready to go.
"I'm not sure how many of our players now were on that trip but I would say not a whole lot," he said earlier in the week. "There's been a decent amount of turnover since then. You know, the experience for those of us that went, you have some idea what to expect. There's something to be said for that."
New England's inconsistent play at times this season has raised some doubts after the team repeating as champs in a tight AFC East, but as St. Louis showed in last week's loss to high-flying Green Bay, the NFC West cellar- dwellers are still trying to find a way to compete with the more elite teams in the NFL.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 27, Rams 16