• LONDON TOWN: Panthers ready to face Buccaneers in first game overseas

    By: JOSH DUBOW, AP Pro Football Writer

    Updated:

    LONDON - For the first time in franchise history, the Carolina Panthers are gearing up to take the field in London and play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first game overseas. 

    It is an early start on Sunday with kickoff at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.


    In the video at the top of this webpage, Channel 9’s Phil Orban and DaShawn Brown are in London as fans and the team gear up for the game against the Tampa Bay Bucs.


    Hundreds of fans flew over from Charlotte and just from the Roaring Riots travel group alone, there are more than 700 fans in London to cheer on the Panthers.

    "You know it was a long flight," fan Laurie Clements said. "It was about seven hours, get a little bit of snooze eye. It was really amazing thought because it was full of Panthers fans."

    The Panthers had the day off on Saturday in London ahead of Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. Some players decided to go on a city tour, but others said they are staying back to keep focus on the game. 

    "We're here on a business trip to win a game," running back Christian McCaffrey said. "For me, it's getting ready. Hopefully, I can get back in the offseason, but right now we're focused on Sunday."

    [ALSO READ: Panthers to play overseas for first time in franchise history during 2019 season]

    Head coach Ron Rivera said this was a rare opportunity for many players and it's their first time in Europe. He said he is comfortable with his players taking Saturday off as long as they follow one of his favorite sayings -- "Be where your feet are."

    "Wherever you are, focus in on where you are 100 percent," Rivera said. "When you're on the practice field, when you're in the meeting rooms, when you're on the game field, be where you are. Then, when you're with your family and your friends, you're about town, enjoy that because it is a great experience for some of these guys. It may be a once in a lifetime experience."

    This is only the fourth time a division game has been played overseas.

    London game a homecoming for Panthers DE Efe Obada

    For most members of the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game in London is an opportunity to see a new country and experience a different culture.

    For Panthers defensive end Efe Obada the game Sunday between Carolina (3-2) and the Bucs (2-3) is a homecoming.

    The Nigerian native who arrived in England as a 10-year-old after being trafficked with his sister from the Netherlands, comes back to London as an NFL player and a star attraction after first picking up the sport of American football at age 22.

    "I'm a bit overwhelmed right now," Obada said Thursday at an NFL-sponsored flag football event for local kids in the town of Harrow, just north of London. "I'm just enjoying the moment."

    On a team with many more high-profile players such as star running back Christian McCaffrey, 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly, and three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, it was a player with just 15 career games who got the biggest reaction when the team arrived at the airport.

    [ALSO READ: 2 Make-A-Wish kids join thousands of fans in London for Panthers game]

    "What are the chances of me being on a team that's going to go back to London? I feel like the stars are aligning," Obada said.

    Obada started playing in London in 2013 and was signed as an undrafted free agent by Dallas two years later. He spent time on the Cowboys practice squad and in the offseason with Kansas City and Atlanta before joining Carolina in 2017 as an International Pathway player, given an extra spot on the practice squad.

    He then became the first International Pathway player to make a 53-man roster the following season and is part of Carolina's rotation on the defensive line.

    "He deserves it," Kuechly said of the attention this week. "He's worked super hard since he got here. ... His journey from where he was until now shows how hard he works and how persistent he is."

    While coming home brings back good memories for Obada, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians is hoping for a happier time in London this year than he had two years ago in his first game here with the Arizona Cardinals.

    "Not very good," Arians said about his memories from the 33-0 loss to the Rams in 2017. "We got beat soundly, and our quarterback (Carson Palmer) broke his arm and we lost him for the season in the second quarter. So it was not fond."


    2019 international games:

    London

    Chicago Bears vs. Oakland Raiders

    Cincinnati Bengals vs. Los Angeles Rams

    Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

    Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Mexico

    Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers


    The Bucs are waiting until Friday to arrive, getting in close to a full practice week back home before holding a final one here in London.

    Arians said he relied on experts to determine the plan and the approach of when and how much players should sleep to make sure the team is in the best position to win Sunday.

    Here are some other things to watch:

    MAKING STRIDES

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is off to one of the best starts of his career with a franchise-record 1,371 yards passing through five games. He's also tied for second in the league with 11 TD passes, one behind Seattle's Russell Wilson. The fifth-year pro, who's earning $20.9 million in the final season of the contract he signed as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, had a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns during a season-opening loss to San Francisco. He's been solid since, stringing together solid performances against the Panthers, Giants, Rams and Saints as makes his case for being the Bucs' long-term solution at quarterback.

    [ALSO READ: Efe Obada survives human trafficking, now a Carolina Panther]

    ADDISON ON A TEAR

    Panthers defensive end Mario Addison is off to the best start of his NFL career with six sacks in the past three games, including a sack-fumble last week against the Jaguars that was returned 56 yards for a touchdown by teammate Brian Burns. Addison had at least six sacks in six straight seasons for the Panthers and is on pace to top his career high of 11 set in 2017.

    RISING STAR

    Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin is coming off consecutive games in which he's had at least 125 yards receiving and two TDs. If he does it again Sunday, the third-year receiver will join Andre Rison (Falcons, 1990), Hall of Famer Don Maynard (Jets, 1967-68) and Cloyce Box (Lions, 1952) as the only players in NFL history with three straight games with those gaudy numbers. Two weeks ago, Godwin had 12 receptions for 172 yards and two scores against the Giants. He had seven catches for 125 yards and two more TDs vs. the Saints.

    SLYE'S CONCERNS

    Panthers kicker Joey Slye will be looking to bounce back from a troubling performance last Sunday when he missed two field goals and an extra point.

    That came after Slye was selected as the NFC special teams player of the month when he made 10 of 11 field goals in September, including four from beyond 50 yards. So the big question is whether it was a just a blip on the radar or if the team needs to be concerned moving forward with the undrafted rookie.

    Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes Slye might have sped up his kicking motion last week after his initial field-goal attempt was blocked.

    SHAQ ATTACK

    Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett leads the NFL with nine sacks, despite having none in Sunday's 31-24 road loss at New Orleans. With opposing teams beginning to make adjustments to try to slow the sixth-year pro who had just 14 sacks in four seasons with Denver before signing a one-year, $4 million contract with the Bucs in free agency, Tampa Bay coach Brian Arians said other members of the Bucs defense have to take advantage of the extra attention being paid to Barrett.

    CAROLINA (3-2) vs. TAMPA BAY (2-3) in London

    Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network

    OPENING LINE - Panthers by 3

    RECORD VS. SPREAD - Carolina 3-2, Tampa Bay 2-3

    SERIES RECORD - Panthers lead 23-15

    LAST MEETING - Bucs beat Panthers 20-14, Sept. 12, 2019

    LAST WEEK - Panthers beat Jaguars 34-27; Bucs lost to Saints 31-24

    AP PRO32 RANKING - Panthers No. 17, Bucs No. 23

    PANTHERS OFFENSE - OVERALL (14), RUSH (4), PASS (23).

    PANTHERS DEFENSE - OVERALL (8), RUSH (24), PASS (4).

    BUCCANEERS OFFENSE - OVERALL (17), RUSH (19), PASS (12).

    BUCCANEERS DEFENSE - OVERALL (26), RUSH (2), PASS (32).

    STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES:

    • Panthers won nine of 13 in series but lost first meeting at home this year.
    • Carolina playing first international game in franchise history.
    • Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey's 866 yards from scrimmage second most through five games in NFL history to Jim Brown's 988 in 1963.
    • Panthers QB Kyle Allen won all four career starts with seven TDs, no INTs. Allen first QB in Super Bowl era to win first four starts with no INTs.
    • Carolina lost last eight starts with Cam Newton at QB.
    • Panthers second in NFL with 20 sacks.
    • Coach Ron Rivera won 74th game with Carolina last week, breaking John Fox's franchise record for coach.
    • Bucs 0-2 all-time in London, losing to New England (2009) and Chicago (2011).
    • Tampa Bay DE Shaquil Barrett leads league with nine sacks, one of five players in NFL history with at least nine in first five games. Barrett had three in first meeting with Panthers.
    • Bucs lead NFL allowing 3.12 yards per catch and rank second with 69.8 yards rushing per game allowed.
    • Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston's 1,371 yards passing are most in team history through five games; 11 TD passes rank second.
    • Winston has 99 career TD passes.
    • Bucs allowed more than 300 yards passing past four weeks.
    • Fantasy tip: Tampa Bay WR Chris Godwin has been Winston's No. 1 target all season. Godwin leads NFL with six TD catches, ranks third with 511 yards receiving. Godwin had eight catches for 121 yards, one TD in first meeting with Carolina.

     

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