Familiar foe in unfamiliar territory. In fact, the only thing familiar about the Week Five matchup between NFC South opponents – the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is their names. The Panthers are playing in London for the first time in franchise history. In addition, the Panthers squad that flew into Heathrow airport on Wednesday night is is an entirely different team from the one that dropped a Thursday Night Football game to the Bucs in Week Two.
One glaring difference is that Carolina’s starting quarterback Cam Newton has been sidelined by a foot injury. His replacement, Kyle Allen was 3-0 as the starter coming into Sunday’s game. Christian McCaffrey has continued to get better and better each week. The pass rush is playing lights out and it seems as though Thieves Ave. is back up and thriving. This team has found its groove and it’s paying dividends in the win column as they dominated the Bucs 37-26 in London’s Tottenham Hotspurs Football Stadium.
The tone was set early as Panthers cornerback James Bradberry interrupted Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston on the very first play from scrimmage. The Panthers capitalized on the turnover with a 49 yard field goal by Joey Slye. The Panthers defense took over the first quarter, putting on a clinic in pass rush fundamentals. Dontari Poe and former Buccaneer Gerald McCoy sacked Winston on back-to-back plays. After the punt was downed on the 1-yard line, the Panthers went 99 yards in 12 plays. McCaffrey punched it in from 1 yard out to give the Panthers a 10-0 lead to end the first quarter.
Rookie Brian Burns continued his quest for Defensive Rookie of the Year by opening the second quarter with a sack. Winston and the Bucs would not go quietly, scoring on a 5-yard rush by Ronald Jones II. On the next possession, the defensive continued to harass Winston, sacking him and coming up with another takeaway courtesy of a Javien Elliott interception. Once again, the Panthers capitalized on the turnover as McCaffrey scored on a 25-yard reception for his second touchdown of the day. At the two-minute warning, Winston was sacked and fumbled on back to back plays, with Bruce Irvin hopping on the second fumble to give the Panthers the ball at their own 29-yard line. The Panthers went into halftime with a 17-7 lead after Slye’s 60-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
After a forgettable performance in Week 5 in which he missed two field goals and an extra point, Slye was solid in Sunday’s showing as he connected on field goals of 49, 46, and 29 yards and converted on all extra point attempts. Special teams also stabilized after Ray-Ray McCloud muffed a second quarter which resulted in a Tampa Bay touchdown three plays later. Later, in the fourth quarter, Bucs receiver Bobo Wilson muffed two punts with Jordan Scarlett recovering the second fumble at the Tampa Bay 16 yard line. The Panthers took advantage of the turnover scoring on a Slye field goal a few plays later.
The theme of the Panthers defense has been to win the turnover battle and they did just that. The Panthers pass rush produced another 7 sacks in Sundays game with 2.5 of those coming from former Buccaneer Gerald McCoy. Vernon Butler recorded two sacks which Burns and Dontari Poe recorded one each. Bruce Irvin rounded out the attack, getting to Winston for 0.5 sack (combined with McCoy). It was McCoy’s second-highest sack total in one game; his career high is 3.
The defense got it done on the ground and through the air hauling in five interceptions. Bradberry snagged two interceptions while Elliott, Luke Kuechly, and Ross Cockrell all hauled in one each.
On the offensive side of the ball, Kyle Allen was 20-of-32 for 227 and two touchdowns. DJ Moore led a balanced receiving attack, finishing with seven receptions for 73 yards. Curtis Samuel added 70 yards and one touchdown while Greg Olsen hauled in four catches for 52 yards. Christian McCaffrey had four catches for 26 yards and a score, while adding 31 rushing yards and another touchdown. While certainly not the lofty statistics that we have all become accustomed to from Christian, McCoy says ‘who cares?’
“You’re not gonna have super dominant games every game, you know. Like, they (Tampa Bay) made it tough on him (McCaffrey) the first game. Then the next three games, he just took off. So what? Didn’t he score twice today? So what? Who cares? He scored twice. Christian’s gonna be Christian. He’s still, in my eyes, a top three candidate for MVP. Nothing changes. Oh, so he didn’t get the yards; he gave us 14 points. That’s even better. Forget the yards, he gave us points.”
On the other side of the field, the Panthers certainly did their part to make Winston’s trip across the pond a less than memorable one. Winston finished 30-of-54 for 400 yards, one touchdown, and five interceptions. He also was strip sacked twice, losing one of the fumbles. Chris Godwin had ten receptions for 151 yards while Mike Evans added 96 yards. Cameron Brate scored the Bucs’ lone receiving touchdown while Ronald Jones II and Dare Ogunbowale added one rushing touchdown each.
The win avenges the Panthers 20-14 loss to the Buccaneers in Week Two and increases their lead over the Bucs in the NFC South standings. After starting the season 0-2, the Panthers move to 4-2 going into the bye week. They will return to action on October 27 against a hot San Francisco 49ers team.