LONDON (AP) — The way the Carolina defense kept taking the ball away, Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers offense didn’t have a whole lot of work to do.
McCaffrey scored two touchdowns and Carolina turned five interceptions by Jameis Winston into 17 points to give the Panthers their fourth straight victory, 37-26 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
“Those guys are unbelievable,” McCaffrey said of his defense. “I felt like every single time they were on offense our defense had a chance to get a turnover or a sack. Our D-line is pretty vicious. … They did an unbelievable job all day. It’s nice when you have a defense like that.”
After starting the season with two straight losses with hobbled Cam Newton at quarterback, the Panthers (4-2) have been on a roll with Kyle Allen at quarterback thanks to McCaffrey’s big plays and an opportunistic defense that had a franchise record-tying seven takeaways, along with seven sacks on the day.
The Panthers took advantage of Tampa Bay’s banged-up line that forced the Bucs to use backups Earl Watford and Josh Wells on the right side to harass Winston all day. They hit him to help force two of the interceptions and forced fumbles on successive plays late in the second quarter, including a strip sack by Vernon Butler that Bruce Irvin recovered.
“When one guy makes a play, guys feel like, ‘Man, I have to make a play, too,'” Irvin said. “It’s special when you’re fighting to get sacks out there. That’s when you know you’re a special group.”
Both of those factors came up big on Carolina’s first trip to London in front of a large contingent of Panthers fans for what was designated as a home game for the Bucs (2-4).
James Bradberry intercepted Winston on the first play from scrimmage to set up a field goal to set the tone for the game. Bradberry capped it with one in the end zone on Tampa’s final play from scrimmage.
Irvin forced a bad throw by Winston in the second quarter that Javien Elliott intercepted . That led to McCaffrey’s dazzling 25-yard touchdown catch that featured him juking Vernon Hargreaves III and stiff-arming Devin White on his way into the end zone.
In between those two scores, McCaffrey capped a 99-yard drive with a 1-yard run on fourth down, giving him five TDs the past two weeks.
The turnovers were part of a disturbing pattern for Winston throughout his career. He has five games with at least four turnovers, while no other player has more than two of those games since Winston entered the league in 2015. Winston had five turnovers in all, giving him an NFL-worst 86 in the past five seasons.
“Sometimes I do want to do great things,” Winston said. “But you can do great things but protect the team at the same time.”
Winston did most of his damage after the game got out of hand late, throwing for 400 yards with a 10-yard TD pass to Cameron Brate in the fourth quarter that gave him 100 touchdown passes in his career.
Curtis Samuel added two second-half TDs, scoring on an 8-yard end-around and a 13-yard pass from Allen.
Allen finished 20 for 32 for 227 yards, two TDs and no interceptions to improve to 5-0 as a starter in his career.
JUST FOR KICKS
There was a rare play at the end of the first half when the Panthers called for a fair catch at the 50 with 1 second left. Coach Ron Rivera opted to try a free kick for a field goal. Joey Slye got the opportunity to kick from the 50 with no rush as the Tampa Bay players were required to remain 10 yards back. Slye said he was comfortable from 70 yards on a free kick, but he anticipated a slight breeze to bring the ball from right to left that didn’t materialize.
“I played the ball where I wanted it,” he said. “Had it on that right post but it didn’t move. I was waiting for it to come back.”
Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had a big game against his former team. McCoy had 2½ sacks, deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and had one tackle for loss.
“I don’t have anything bad to say about that organization,” McCoy said. “They changed my life.”
Carolina defensive end Efe Obada was made an honorary captain for the game as part of an emotional day for him. The Nigerian native arrived in England as a 10-year-old after being trafficked with his sister from the Netherlands. Now he’s back here as an NFL player and a star attraction after first picking up the sport of American football at age 22.
Panthers: Starting CB Donte Jackson missed his third straight game with a groin injury.
Buccaneers: Safety Jordan Whitehead went down with an apparent shoulder injury in the fourth quarter.
Panthers: Carolina gets a week off before heading to San Francisco on Oct. 27 to face the 49ers.
Buccaneers: Tampa Bay gets a brief respite in its five-game stretch away from home with a bye week before traveling to Tennessee for the fourth game in this stretch on Oct. 27.
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