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Rapid Reactions: Swarming defense leads Panthers to fourth-straight win


The Big Headline

Tampa Bay flirted with a late comeback, but it eventually fell short in London, where the Panthers defeated the Bucs 37-26.

Ultimately, it all came down to takeaways, so it only made sense for cornerback James Bradberry to seal the victory with a fourth quarter interception.

Winning the turnover battle is important every week, but when the Panthers face off against the Bucs, it's especially relevant. In the last 11 matchups, whichever team has won the turnover battle has also won the game, and Sunday marked No. 12.

Carolina forced seven turnovers against the Bucs and only gave up one in return.

Whether it was picking off Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston five times, forcing multiple strip-sacks, or creating a game-changing play on special teams, the Panthers took advantage of the Bucs' sloppy play.

Not only did the Panthers force turnovers, but they made the most of the extra possessions once they got them. The offense was able to score 20 points off turnovers, which proved to be the difference on Sunday.

"Thievery travels"

Talk about a fast start.

On the game's first offensive play, Winston decided to test Bradberry, but the cornerback undercut Bucs receiver Mike Evans' quick hitch route and picked it off.

After a game last week that saw Evans go without a catch, Winston tried to get him involved early – only doing it against Bradberry is ill-advised.

The interception set up a field goal to give the Panthers an early 3-0 lead.

Thieves Avenue was just getting started, though.

In the second quarter, Winston dropped back to pass again, but heavy pressure from Panthers edge rusher Bruce Irvin led to a wobbly pass that defensive back Javien Elliott intercepted. Elliott, a former Buccaneer, helped to set up running back Christian McCaffrey's second touchdown of the day a few plays later, putting the Panthers up 17-7.

Midway through the third quarter, the secondary even let linebacker Luke Kuechly in on the action. Kuechly picked off Winston for the quarterback's third interception of the day, returning it all the way down to the 8-yard line. The next play, Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel found himself in the end zone for a 27-7 Carolina lead.

Then, when it was all on the line late in the fourth quarter with Winston trying to engineer some late-game heroics, cornerback Ross Cockrell picked off Winston for a fourth time, seemingly sealing the win.

But Winston wasn't done yet. With one last shot at the end zone, Bradberry recorded his second interception of the day, marking the defense's fifth interception.

When safety Tre Boston boarded the plane to London on Wednesday, the message on his shirt was simple: "Thievery travels."

After a five-interception performance, it's safe to say the Thieves backed up Boston's talk.

Sackstreet's back

Thievery isn't the only thing that travels.

The Sackstreet Boys began the European leg of their world tour on Sunday against the Bucs with a dominating seven-sack performance.

By halftime, the Panthers had already sacked Winston six times, matching his total from last week's game against the Saints.

After being held without a sack through the first five weeks, Gerald McCoy was able to join the sack party against his former team, leading the way with 2.5 sacks. Edge rushers Brian Burns and Irvin were able to get in on the fun, too, as well as defensive tackle Dontari Poe.

The biggest sacks of the day, however, came on two consecutive plays late in the second quarter when defensive tackle Vernon Butler recorded quite possibly the best sequence of his career. Tampa Bay was threatening to score before halftime, but Butler bulldozed his way into the backfield for back-to-back strip-sacks.

The Bucs were able to fall on the first fumble, but they weren't as lucky the second time around. Irvin dove on the loose ball and prevented the Bucs from adding a late score before halftime.

The Panthers D finished with seven sacks, bringing their season total to a franchise-record 27 through the first six games.

Versatility on offense

Heading into Sunday's matchup, one of the biggest questions for the Panthers was whether they'd be able to get McCaffrey more involved against the Bucs this time around. In Week 2, McCaffrey was held to just 53 yards from scrimmage and no touchdowns, marking his weakest performance of the season.

Well, he may not have racked up the yardage this week, with just 57 yards on 26 touches, but what really mattered were CMC's two touchdowns – one on the ground and one through the air.

Earlier in the week, offensive coordinator Norv Turner talked about the Bucs' focus on McCaffrey and how it would likely open up more opportunities for other weapons, and that proved to be true.

With the defense locked in on his main target, quarterback Kyle Allen was able to spread the ball around with great success, connecting with five different receivers. Wide receivers Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore and tight end Greg Olsen were big targets for Allen, as each recorded over 50 yards receiving.

On top of McCaffrey's scores, Samuel added a rushing and receiving touchdown, too, proving just how dangerous the Panthers offense can be.

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