American Football: Gridiron greats turn up heat at Wembley

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots bring touch of razzle-dazzle to football's spiritual home

The New England Patriots thrilled their British fans with a dominant victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third NFL regular-season game to be played at Wembley.

Heavily favoured in the build-up, the Patriots, although far from flawless, poured further misery on the winless Buccaneers with five touchdowns in their fifth win from seven games this season.

While the previous two NFL games played here were nail biters that were decided late in the fourth quarters, the result of this one seemed inevitable as soon as Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather ran back an interception for a touchdown after only two and a half minutes.

But that seemed to do little to dampen the enthusiasm of the sell-out crowd, who came sporting the jerseys of all 32 NFL teams but with that of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady outnumbering all others.

Brady repaid that faith as he threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns, albeit with two uncharacteristic interceptions.

This game is the latest part of the NFL's extensive efforts to expand its reach in this country, with more games planned in the coming years and continued talk of one day moving a team here permanently.

Games like this are intended to win over ever more fans, but tonight inside Wembley at least, they were preaching to the choir.

Few of the fans on hand will have been surprised to see coach Bill Belichick's well-drilled Patriots pick apart the woeful Bucs.

They wasted absolutely no time making their superiority felt, with Meriweather intercepting Josh Johnson's pass on the opening drive and returning it 39 yards for the touchdown.

The Bucs responded with a drive that took them deep into Pats territory, only for Johnson to throw another interception that Meriweather returned to midfield.

The Pats made Tampa Bay pay as Brady led his team downfield and then threw a 14-yard touchdown to pint-sized receiver Wes Welker, putting New England up 14-0 before the first quarter was over.

Brady had been flawless up that point, completing seven of seven passes for 79 yards, but as he looked for a third touchdown early in the second quarter his pass was picked off by Tanard Jackson in the end zone.

It took him only a couple of minutes to regain his composure though as he sliced open Tampa Bay's defence once again with a short toss that Sam Aiken carried 54 yards for his first career touchdown.

Brady, normally so controlled, threw another interception as he went deep looking for Brandon Tate, opening the door for the Bucs.

This time they took advantage as Johnson led his team downfield on a 67-yard drive, capped by a 33-yard pass to Antonio Bryant for the touchdown that made it 21-7 at half-time.

The Pats got back on track early in the third quarter as Brady threw long for Ben Watson to run in and score.

Tampa Bay twice threatened again, but could not get into the New England end zone as the game became a battle for field position.

The Patriots did not sustain a drive of their own until the fourth quarter, when Laurence Maroney made a short run to cap the win with a fifth touchdown that put the game out of reach for Tampa Bay.

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