LONDON (Reuters) - The New Orleans Saints beat the San Diego Chargers 37-32 on Sunday as Drew Brees tossed three touchdowns to lead his team to victory in an entertaining affair at London’s Wembley stadium.
New Orleans led most of the way though the Chargers used two fourth quarter scores to keep it close until the end.
The Saints intercepted San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers with around a minute left to stop a late drive, and his Hail Mary pass fell short on the last play of the game.
The teams traded field goals to start the game before Brees, who was 30 of 41 for 339 yards, led New Orleans on a 10 play, 89-yard drive that resulted in the game’s first touchdown.
On that drive’s final play, Brees shook off a tackler and heaved the ball to wide receiver Devery Henderson who was standing alone in the end zone for an easy seven points.
“It makes it easy to call plays when he is throwing the ball that well,” New Orleans Coach Sean Payton said after the game, adding the cut-up field gave offenses the advantage.
San Diego’s Darren Sproles fumbled the ensuing kick-off, giving the ball right back to the Saints who scored six plays later when running back Deuce McAllister punched the ball over the goal line from one yard out.
But the Chargers responded quickly with running back Ladainian Tomlinson catching a short pass near the goal line and beating a few tacklers to score his team’s first touchdown.
Rivers said his team made some critical errors and gave up too many penalties. The Chargers were flagged 14 times for 134 yards.
“We dug ourselves a hole,” the quarterback told reporters after the game. “That was key.”
The game, played before an enthusiastic near sell-out crowd of 83,226 fans, featured plenty of scoring to keep the fans, many wearing NFL jerseys of their favorite teams, interested on a chilly but dry London night.
The Saints had to hold off a determined Chargers team in the fourth quarter after San Diego recovered an onsides kick following a Nate Kaeding field goal that had cut their deficit to two touchdowns.
Rivers picked apart the Saints secondary to quickly move San Diego downfield before hitting Vincent Jackson who made a diving touchdown in the back of the end zone with less than 10 minutes to play.
The Chargers scored a final two points when Brees stepped out of the end zone to concede a safety, a decision Saints coach Payton said was aimed at taking time off the clock.
“It was a bit of a clock management issue,” Payton said. “That became more important than the two points.”
For the Chargers, Tomlinson racked up 105 yards on the ground on 19 carries and Rivers connected 25 times on 40 pass attempts for 341 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Last year’s sold-out game at Wembley featured the eventual Super Bowl winning New York Giants versus the Miami Dolphins, two of the most popular teams in Britain.
But this time around the regular season game featured two smaller market teams, a pairing league officials say will help them better gauge the sport’s popularity in Britain.
The Wembley match-up marked the second year in a row the National Football League has played a regular season game in London as part of its push to attract more fans outside the United States.
Editing by Miles Evans