McCaffrey guides Carolina to entertaining victory over Tampa Bay in London
Christian McCaffrey starred as Panthers became the second team to win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Carolina Panthers enjoyed their first trip to London and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with a 37-26 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the second ever NFL match to be played at the venue.
It was fitting the Panthers triumphed given their colours include blue and white – the same as Spurs – and this fixture belonged to Christian McCaffrey, with the running back able to show the UK firsthand why he is expected to mount a challenge for this season’s MVP.
The Carolina number 22 went over for two touchdowns on a successful day against their NFC South rivals, led by adopted Londoner Efe Obada in front of 60,087 spectators in N17.
The opening NFL game at this venue a week ago produced a thriller with the Oakland Raiders managing to recover from blowing a 17-0 lead to win 24-21 against the Chicago Bears.
Carolina were one of two NFL franchises yet to play in England’s capital before this weekend and they promptly arrived on Thursday – a day before Tampa Bay, who had been part of the London Games at Wembley in 2009 and 2011.
While this was a Buccaneers home fixture – demonstrated by the amount of red decorated around Spurs’ home – it felt like Carolina were the hosts, such was the energy of their fans inside the first purpose-built NFL stadium outside of the United States.
The noise increased even more when an interception occurred off the first play, with Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston’s throw caught by Panthers’ cornerback James Bradberry – it was a sign of things to come.
Defence was on top for much of the first quarter, but a wonderful drive consisting of 12 plays for 99 yards produced the first touchdown.
It was no surprise that Carolina running back McCaffrey went over from one yard, but to do so he had to squeeze through a crowd of bodies.
With the score 10-0, Panthers were firmly in control, but Tampa Bay briefly awoke from a slumber at the start of the second quarter.
Cornerback Ryan Smith forced a fumble, linebacker Kevin Minter recovered and a 30-yard gain some plays later by tightend OJ Howard put the Buccaneers in a strong position.
Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II ensured they made the most of it, dancing around a couple of challengers to put the home team on the board.
Any momentum built up was wiped out, though, when quarterback Winston had a second throw intercepted, this time by Javien Elliott.
The Panthers were enjoying their first trip to London and midway through the second quarter grabbed a second touchdown.
Quarterback Kyle Allen found McCaffrey and he sidestepped Vernon Hargreaves III – which left him on the NFL turf – and slipped past two other opponents to run in from 25 yards and make it 17-7.
Buccaneers quarterback Winston was not flourishing in the capital and was sacked twice in succession, the second by Panthers honoury captain for the day Obada.
Defensive end Obada only discovered the game five years ago in the UK and here he was back in London – having been trafficked to England from the Netherlands at the age of 10 – looking to help Carolina go 4-2 this season.
It was going horribly wrong for Tampa Bay and a third false start allowed placekicker Joey Slye the chance to attempt a 60-yard field goal, but he missed and it remained 17-7 at half-time.
Slye was successful with his next field goal effort – from 46 yards – and Carolina went over for a third touchdown not long after.
Winston saw another throw intercepted and from the next play, Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel strolled into the end zone.
Samuel doubled his touchdown tally at the start of the fourth, impressively grabbing hold of Allen’s throw while still in the air.
Tampa Bay responded with Winston picking out tight end Cameron Brate for a touchdown, and the two-point conversation made it a 34-18 game.
It gave Bruce Arians’ team a confidence boost and they made things even more interesting when running back Dare Ogunbowale grabbed their third touchdown at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Winston made sure of the two-point conversation, running into the end zone and Buccaneers now trailed by 11 with five minutes left.
But there was to be no dramatic finale, however, with Winston intercepted for a fourth and then fifth time as Panthers secured a maiden win in London with this multi-purpose stadium continuing to earn rave reviews.