Carolina Panthers

McCaffrey, Allen star in another Panthers’ win – and what about that crazy free kick?

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Panthers vs. Buccaneers

Expanded coverage of Carolina’s game vs. Tampa Bay in London

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No matter what continent they are playing on, Christian McCaffrey, Kyle Allen and the Carolina Panthers just keep rolling.

McCaffrey scored two more touchdowns Sunday, bringing him to nine for the season, and Carolina bowled over Tampa Bay, 37-26, in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. It was the Panthers’ fourth straight win after starting the season 0-2.

McCaffrey’s 25-yard receiving TD from Allen will be the one that makes all the highlight reels. After Allen went through his heads and checked the ball down, McCaffrey made three Buccaneers miss. One of them fell down without ever touching him after a wicked fake. McCaffrey stiff-armed another defender to the ground on the play and scored as the sellout crowd of 60,087 — the majority of whom were Panthers fans — roared in appreciation.

But his first-quarter TD up the middle on fourth-and-goal from the 1 was just as impressive, as McCaffrey seemed to be stopped. But he kept his legs churning and reached the ball out just over the goal line to complete a 99-yard drive in which Allen went 5-for-5 for 68 yards.

Tampa Bay once again kept McCaffrey well under his yardage averages, however, and especially stifled him on running plays (22 carries, 31 yards). McCaffrey has averaged 203 yards from scrimmage against Carolina’s four other opponents this season, but only gained 57 total yards Sunday. He had just 53 total yards in Carolina’s loss Sept. 12.

“They stacked the box,” McCaffrey said, “and they’d bring more than you can block. But at the end of the day, we won, and that’s what matters.”

Once again, Tampa Bay concentrated so much of its defensive efforts toward McCaffrey that Carolina’s quarterbacks had lots of open receivers running around. Cam Newton threw for 333 yards on basically one leg against Tampa Bay in September, but the Panthers never scored a touchdown in that loss.

This time, with a huge assist from a Carolina defense that extracted six turnovers from Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston, the Panthers scored four TDs.

Allen, now 4-0 as a starter this season and still with no interceptions in his NFL career, also had a big game after a slow start. He threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns and made just enough plays in the fourth quarter to keep the clock running.

Newton, 0-2 as a starter this season and 0-8 over his last eight starts, missed his fourth consecutive game with a foot injury.

What was that strange fair catch/free kick the Panthers attempted at the end of the first half?

Due to a little-known NFL rule, the Panthers were able to let Joey Slye take a 60-yard field goal attempt with no one trying to block it at the end of the first half. Slye missed, but it was still a “brilliant” strategy, as the English might say.

This “fair kick” can only be attempted on the play right after a fair catch, which means it is of limited use. In most NFL seasons, not a single one is attempted, although it probably could be used more if more people understood the rule. It’s a leftover from an old rugby rule that has somehow never been rescinded.

The kicker is allowed to take a running start at the ball, much like a kickoff. Normally, however, the offense wants to score a touchdown and/or any fair catches are made well out of field-goal range.

The Panthers set it up perfectly after Tampa Bay false-started three consecutive times while punting at the end of the half. Carolina’s special-teams coaches called for a fair catch, which was made at the 50. That allowed Slye to take a running start and boom a kick that had plenty of distance, but he missed it wide right. Slye went 3-for-4 on his other field-goal attempts, also missing from 41 yards.

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Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey stretches out for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to complete a 99-yard TD drive for Carolina. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel had a huge afternoon, scoring twice. Samuel had an eight-yard reverse for a touchdown and then out-fought a Tampa Bay defender in one-on-one coverage for a 13-yard TD. “I had to watch the replay myself on Twitter,” Samuel said, “because I didn’t know what happened.”

It was the first Panthers’ game ever in which the American national anthem was followed by “God Save the Queen.” Panthers safety Eric Reid knelt for the first one and stood for the second.

When Panthers’ defensive tackle Vernon Butler made back-to-back strip sacks in the second quarter, it was startling in many senses. One of them was this: In 2016, 2017 and 2018, Butler had only two sacks combined during a three-year period.

Panthers kick returner Ray Ray McCloud had his third fumble of the season during the game, which raised the question (again) as to why McCloud is still used as the team’s primary kick returner. All three fumbles, oddly, have come against Tampa Bay.

IThe game featured several drops and near-misses. Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans had a real chance at a long touchdown late in the first half, but muffed a ball from Jameis Winston that could have gone for a 74-yard TD. Carolina’s Jarius Wright also let a perfect Kyle Allen throw go through his hands early in the third quarter that would have resulted in a first down on third-and-13.

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