No surfing on this fabled turf

Walkthroughs canceled by rain

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / October 25, 2009

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LONDON - The Patriots literally will be playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today on foreign soil.

Forget the obvious, that the contest is being played at Wembley Stadium - the third straight year the NFL has staged a regular-season game at the iconic English edifice.

Because of rainfall yesterday and the possibility of more today, the NFL cancelled both teams’ walkthroughs at Wembley. That prevented the Patriots and Buccaneers from testing out the playing surface and familiarizing themselves with details like the location of the scoreboard and play clock, adding more foreign conditions to a game being played in a foreign country.

Both the Patriots and Bucca neers held walkthroughs at their hotels.

“It’s always good to go out there and see your surroundings and what you’re going to play on, but at the same time we just have to move on and just get ready to play, said Buccaneers defensive tackle and former Boston College standout Chris Hovan. “Grass is grass anywhere you go, sometimes it’s longer, sometimes it’s shorter, but it will all be fine.’’

The Wembley Stadium field, which has provided fodder for criticism in the past for its lack of durability during the previous NFL games, was covered with a tarp yesterday.

The NFL said the decision to cancel the walkthroughs had nothing to do with protecting the Wembley pitch, but was based on standard NFL policy, which states that “fields should always be covered on the day and night before a game if there is any possibility of precipitation, regardless of the type of surface on the field, unless a club has been granted permission not to cover its field by the game operations department.’’

Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris sent his team’s equipment manager, Jim Sorenson, to Wembley Stadium yesterday to scout the turf.

The Patriots did not have media availability yesterday, but team spokesman Stacey James said the team’s equipment staff and trainers always go to the visiting stadium the day before to set up the locker room.

The field and a lack of familiarity with the stadium might be the only thing that can stop the Patriots today.

The Buccaneers are winless (0-6) and rank 27th in the NFL in points per game (14.8) and 29th in points allowed (28). They have a rookie head coach in Morris and a second-year quarterback, Josh Johnson, who is making his fourth career start and has completed just 54.5 percent of his passes. Johnson has three touchdown passes and five interceptions.

Tampa Bay has 10 offensive touchdowns in six games. The Patriots scored eight offensive touchdowns last week in their 59-0 demolition of the Tennessee Titans, six via Tom Brady passes.

“I’m sure we’re a major underdog,’’ said Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams. “You got the great Tom Brady, Randy Moss. It’s a good opportunity for the team, and that’s how we’re approaching it.’’

If it’s any solace for the Buccaneers, the Patriots are winless on the road this season, and technically Tampa is the home team today.

“Yeah, obviously, you like your home-field advantage, and I’m sure it’ll be a neutral crowd out here,’’ said Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber. “But we knew this was on the schedule the whole time.

“Regardless of our record, we’re still going to come play this game. It’s good for the NFL, and really, it’s good for us. We’re going to try to grab some exposure with this opportunity. We get the chance to play a great team, in a great venue. We’re going to embrace that.’’

However, the Patriots didn’t fly more than 3,200 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to get upset.

“We came over here to win,’’ said nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “We want to be leaving here going into the bye 5-2. We all prepare and accept the challenge. We have to show up or it’s going to be a long plane ride home.’’

There will be other foreign elements at Wembley besides the field and stadium set-up. The crowd is expected to be more like a soccer crowd, with constant chanting and even the blowing of whistles by fans in the stands.

“You definitely know you’re in a different environment,’’ said former Patriots tight end Michael Matthews, who was with the New York Giants in 2007 when they played Miami in the inaugural game in London. “You realize it once you get in the game and you hear all those whistles and stuff . . . It’s not a normal game.’’

One of these teams is going to walk off the Wembley field with an initial win of some kind. Either the Patriots score their first win away from home or the Buccaneers get their first win, period.

“Right now, we’re 0-6,’’ said Hovan. “We’re searching for that first victory, and if it rewards us to come overseas and get it, then by gosh we better get it done.’’

“It will be a lot better trip if we come away with the victory,’’ said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. “We’ve struggled on the road. Hopefully, we come away with this victory.’’

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at

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