LONDON — The Jacksonville Jaguars are looking to shake their winless start with the first of many trips to London. The San Francisco 49ers are trying to maintain current momentum.
They meet Sunday in the second of two NFL International Series games this season.
Jacksonville (0-7) is giving up one of its home games at Everbank Field to play at Wembley Stadium, where it will return in each of the next three years as host team.
A “home” game on foreign soil could be the ticket to beating the 49ers (5-2) and ending a terrible first half of the season on an encouraging note.
“I think it should help us out a lot ... in coming together as a team,” said Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne, who will start for the third straight game. “Especially in this circumstance where we’re 0-7, it definitely could be beneficial for us.”
There is an extra emotional tint to Jacksonville’s trip after coach Gus Bradley joined the team late due to the death of his father.
The 49ers, who beat Denver at Wembley three years ago, have won four straight games and cannot afford a slip-up in the NFC West with Seattle atop of the division by one game.
“Every game is important with Seattle in our division. So as long as they are winning games, we have to win games,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said.
Here are five things to look for as the NFL closes out its annual trip to the United Kingdom:
The Jaguars are healthier with wide receivers Ace Sanders and Stephen Burton cleared to play, along with defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey.
Bradley held defensive tackle Roy Miller out of practice on Thursday to be smart.
“It was the first time that we had all the receivers in one of our practices, so another good thing,” said Bradley, who quickly made Henne the starter over Blaine Gabbert following back-to-back 300-yard plus passing games.
The Jaguars will need all offensive weapons in working order: San Francisco is the league’s eighth-best defense, with nine interceptions.
London has been mild and sunny all week, but that still hasn’t kept players from worrying about the condition of the Wembley Stadium field. The pitch has been oft-criticized, especially during the 2007 matchup between the Giants and Dolphins when rain soaked the field in mud.
“Everything is a lot better than last time. I’m not saying that it was horrible last time, but it shows how the NFL is taking care of things over here,” said Willis, referring to the 49ers’ victory over the Broncos in 2010. “I wouldn’t say I was fond of that field, I’d be lying if I said I was a big fan.”
While the Jaguars are the designated home team, the 49ers have the most credibility when it comes to being a London club. That comes thanks to London native Lawrence Okoye.
The rookie defensive lineman is a British Olympian who signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. The whole idea of playing American football was suggested by his agent at a track meet in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2011. Okoye is Britain’s record discus thrower, but being on injured reserve because of a preseason knee injury means he will have to watch.
“It’s going to be bittersweet for me to be there at Wembley. Not being able to play gives me another motivation to really buckle down,” Okoye said.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said the club was experimenting by signing Okoye.
“You wanted to see what it would be like if he switched to football and how quickly he could grasp that,” Harbaugh said. “I can’t say that I can tell you if it’s going to eventually work. But, he’s on the right track and it’s got possibilities still.”
Adjusting to the time difference, shaking off fatigue, and staying outside of London have kept players from both teams away from the city’s distractions. While some spoke of visiting Big Ben and the houses of Parliament, others were more interested in shopping and sleep.
“We’ve been staying down here and enjoying the spa with massages and hot and cold tubs,” Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III said. “It’s been making us closer, just hanging out with each other and enjoying each other.”
Jaguars defensive end Jason Babin had to visit Stonehenge alone.
“It was pretty amazing, giant rocks, field. I was glad I got to go see it. I went with myself. No one was interested in a little culture.”
On the telly
The 49ers coaching staff has come to the right country for watching some of their favorite TV shows.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is a fan of “Fawlty Towers,” the 1970s sitcom starring Monty Python’s John Cleese. Harbaugh, meanwhile, admitted to being a big fan of “Foyle’s War,” a series taking place in Britain in the post-World War II years.
“Is that coming back? Does anybody know anything about that? I just love that show. I’ve seen them all. Was kind of hoping there was going to be a return of the show. Anybody know?” Harbaugh asked British journalists.
Harbaugh was informed the show is canceled.
“No, it’s not coming back? It’s done, done? That’s too bad. What a shame.”
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