1. The defense again shut down the run – and Christian McCaffrey.
The Buccaneers remain the only team to hold Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey to under 90 yards on the ground. Well under 90 yards. Week 2, McCaffrey was limited to just 37 yards while Sunday's effort bested that by six yards. In London, the Tampa Bay defense held him to just 31 yards on the ground on 22 carries for an average of just 1.41 yards per carry. He averaged 9.26 yards per carry a week prior against Jacksonville, for reference. A dangerous receiver, the Bucs shut him down there, too. McCaffrey caught four passes for just 26 yards on Sunday. In all, the Bucs held McCaffrey to 57 yards from scrimmage. He's averaged 203.25 yards from scrimmage in the four other games he hasn't played the Bucs. Not a single other opponent has been able to do what Tampa Bay's defense has done against him. The Panthers had just 59 total yards rushing on 29 carries – so it's not like they weren't trying. It was good for a paltry 2.0 yards per carry average as a team.
Save for a couple plays that the defense would like to have back from an execution standpoint, the defense held up yet again against one the of the best backs – and rushing attacks – in the league. The mistakes that were made Arians credited mostly to inexperience from the rookies.
"Yeah, we totally busted a coverage," Arians said of the one play McCaffrey got free on in the passing game, taking a catch-and-run from Allen for 25 yards. "Devin lets McCaffrey go of all people. Again, that's one of those young mistakes. We made some young mistakes today. We've got young players playing that are going to have hellacious careers, but they're making some mistakes right now that are hurting us."
In the big picture though, the Carolina offense in general was held to just 268 total yards. Quarterback Kyle Allen's longest play of the day was 30 yards and he had a 62.5% completion rate. He had 227 yards passing – less if you count the two sacks that backed him up 18 yards. What's more, is the Panthers were just three-for-15 on third down. They were forced to punt seven times – that's one more than the Bucs on Sunday.
There's no way around it, turnovers were the costliest aspect of Sunday's game in London. Going into the game, the Bucs had a +4 turnover margin thanks to the defense's propensity to take the ball away so far this season. It ranked the Bucs sixth in the league. Against the Panthers this time around, quarterback Jameis Winston's pass was intercepted on the very first play of the game and it unfortunately stuck with him. In a game that saw Winston pass 54 times, he threw five interceptions, including a last-second, last-ditch effort at the end of the game in the end zone. He also fumbled the ball twice, losing it once, both times on sacks with heavy pressure.
That was the biggest factor in the Bucs' lack of ball security: the pressure from the Panthers' defense. The past three games, Carolina's defense had registered 16.0 sacks – the most in the league during that span. They added seven sacks to that total in London. Winston was under duress all day and at least one interception was the result of a tipped ball. With right guard Alex Cappa suffering a broken arm in Week Five against the Saints and right tackle Demar Dotson out with a hamstring injury, the Bucs were left to shuffle that side of the offensive line this week. As a result, Winston may have felt he needed to make more things happen on his own than normal.
"He has a habit of trying to be Superman, and that's been a problem in the past," Head Coach Bruce Arians said in addressing Winston's turnovers. "The fumbles haven't occurred this year until today, but again, trying to make something out of nothing, and it's just a matter of knowing when to quit on a play."
To see what exactly the cause of each turnover was and how to correct it, the Bucs will go to the tape – likely reviewing a lot of it on the nine-hour journey back to Tampa before Monday morning.
3. A unique and electric atmosphere.
Yeah, a nine-hour plane ride. The Bucs were the home team, yet they were almost 3,000 miles away from Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Instead, they were at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England as part of the NFL International series. The sold-out crowd of over 60,000 people flocked into the English football stadium to see some football of the American variety. It was unlike any other NFL game you've ever seen. There were fans from every NFL team in attendance, proudly wearing their jerseys and reveling in seeing an NFL game live, no matter who was playing. There were, of course, a great contingent of Buccaneers fans, though. They made their presence known all weekend, whether it was at The Admiralty Pub in Trafalgar Square or waving a Bucs UK flag at the stadium.
What was really cool too was to see how the stadium was transformed into a Bucs venue. There was no detail missed from the red Buccaneers bunting around the field to the massive logos on the walls outside the home locker room. There were even cannons, for good measure. The open-air stadium was also similar to the atmosphere of Raymond James Stadium, but the weather was a bit different. After a rainy weekend, it looked as though the Bucs would have to brave the elements a little bit. However, by the second half, the sky gave way to a beautiful blue and the air was just chilly enough to remind you that fall exists in other parts of the world. It was football weather and it was glorious. The result on the field may have been forgettable, but the experience itself was not.