Falcons seek 'home' advantage in faraway London
Oct. 22, 2014
WATFORD, England (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are a long way from the Georgia Dome.
But they are getting ready for a "home" game in London against the Detroit Lions.
Reeling from a four-game losing streak and several injuries, the Falcons (2-5) are not out of it in the mediocre NFC South.
The Falcons enter the week trailing the Saints (2-5) and Panthers (3-3-1).
"As bad and as ugly as it's been in the last couple of weeks, we're still right in the mix," quarterback Matt Ryan said after the team arrived Monday to overcome a trans-Atlantic dose of jetlag.
For the second time in an injury-filled season, Ryan will be taking snaps from a new center: undrafted rookie James Stone.
The Falcons' first backup, Peter Konz, tore ligaments in his left knee Sunday in the Falcons' 29-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He became the fourth starting lineman to suffer a season-ending injury this year.
Ryan and coach Mike Smith expressed confidence in Stone's ability to learn quickly, but know he will face a challenge in Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the Lions' ferocious pass rush.
"James is a very good young football player that understands the game. He impressed us early on with his ability to identify fronts and change protections. He is an intelligent young guy," Smith said. "He just doesn't have any experience."
Stone is hardly the only one facing new experiences as the NFL pursues its experiment of developing European interest in the American sport with the second of three games at London's Wembley Stadium this season.
Many of the Falcons had never traveled overseas before Monday.
When they arrived at London's Heathrow Airport, they went immediately to an elementary school to teach local kids some NFL fundamentals, and were instructed by coaches to push through the jetlag by staying awake well past sundown.
Many players found it difficult to follow that advice and were still feeling jetlag on Wednesday as practice opened at the London training ground of Arsenal, one of Britain's top soccer clubs.
"I was in and out. I think I woke up at 2 o'clock," said receiver Julio Jones, describing his first night's attempt to sleep on the European clock. "It's difficult here with this time difference, five hours. It's been rough on me."
Jones was asked by an English journalist whether he thought the league was serious about bringing an NFL team full time to London.
He said it might provide the best home-field advantage in league history, so long as the visiting U.S. team didn't get the time to adjust their body clocks.
"A permanent franchise?" he said. "Y'all would definitely have the upper hand — if you don't let guys come in too early to get acclimated. Let them come in on Friday. Play them Sunday. You'd kill 'em every time."
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