Carolina Panthers leave London as contenders: Players discuss ‘state-of-the-art’ stadium and ‘quiet leader’ Kyle Allen

Carolina Panthers leave London as contenders: Players discuss ‘state-of-the-art’ stadium and ‘quiet leader’ Kyle Allen

You may have heard about the International Series playoff streak.

The last nine teams to have won an International Series game have gone on to reach the playoffs that season.

On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers won their first ever game in the series – their fourth straight victory this season – when they beat NFC South rivals Tampa Bay 37-26 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

After a rough start to their season, the Panthers have turned it around and have the chance to continue the success of previous London winners and earn a playoff berth with an MVP candidate in Christian McCaffrey and a defense that leads the league in sacks and is joint second in takeaways.

Was the victory another step on the way to a postseason run?

Turning the season around

In a loaded NFC, the Panthers have emerged as a team to be reckoned with, despite a torrid end to 2018 that continued this season.

To end last year, they had lost seven straight games (after a 6-2 start) before a Week 17 consolation win – with then-rookie Kyle Allen at the helm.

This year, starter Cam Newton’s losing streak continued as the team fell to 0-2 with home losses to the Rams and Buccaneers. But after a woeful Week Two Thursday night outing in which Newton threw 51 passes but completed just 25 of them in a 20-14 defeat, he was ruled out of Week Three with a foot injury and hasn’t played since.

While Allen has been extremely impressive, the whole team has rallied for wins against Arizona, Houston, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. Four defensive players told Sky Sports what the mindset has been in the locker room to turn their season around.

Defensive tackle Dontari Poe: “[The coaches and captains said] just keep doing what we are doing. Everybody do their job, don’t try to be Superman because we don’t need that, we just need everybody to do their part and we will come up with wins and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Defensive end Brian Burns: “We just came to the understanding that it only matters what is in this room – as far as no matter if Cam goes down, it’s the next guy up.

“But other than that, we are going to fight for each other as a team – offense, defense, doesn’t really matter. We are going to pick up the slack.

“We do what we are doing. We do what we do every day in practice and just execute and make the plays when they come to you.”

Cornerback Donte Jackson: “Keep pounding. Keep grinding, keep going.”

Cornerback James Bradberry: “Next man up. That’s the motto you have to have in the NFL. Injuries are going to happen, you’ve just got to be ready. The person behind them has to be able to step up and make plays.”

‘Quiet’ Allen leading by example

The most important ‘next man up’ has, of course, been quarterback Allen, who recorded the fifth straight win to start his career on Sunday. He broke Jake Delhomme’s franchise record of four, and boasts an outstanding 107.9 passer rating through those games, with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

He has managed to step in and replace one of the most exciting, exuberant and charismatic personalities in the league in Newton, but he has done things his own way.

About Carolina’s second-year undrafted free agent QB, Poe told Sky Sports: “He has stepped up in a major way. He doesn’t really talk much. But I don’t really talk much either.

“He just leads by example, he’s been doing that for the team, been making plays when we need them, being smart and doing everything we need him to do – doing his part for us to get wins.”

Burns: “He gave us a lot of energy [today] and he gives us a lot of energy every game. You rarely see offensive guys coming to the defensive side every drive or so and motivate us but he does that so that’s really big coming from him.”

Bradberry: “He’s cool and laid back. He doesn’t talk a lot but when he goes out there, I can see the confidence and the swagger in the way that he plays.”

The London experience

It was the first time the Panthers had made the trip abroad – and they were the 30th NFL team to play in the UK, with the Texans to follow in November and the Green Bay Packers remaining the only team not to make the trip.

And, like the Raiders last week, Carolina’s players enjoyed their experience across the pond.

Bradberry: “At first it was a little bit of a struggle – adjusting to the time difference and of course the long flight, but I enjoyed it man. I enjoyed the food, I enjoyed the culture.

“It seems like everybody over here is very peaceful. When I go onto the streets, it’s kind of like New York with a lot of people walking up the streets, but I rarely hear anybody honking their horns when people cross the street.

“You don’t really get that in the US – a lot of people are in a rush. Seems like everybody is pacing themselves over here.”

Jackson (who travelled with the team but was a game-time inactive): “It was cool, it was a dope experience. I spent most of the time just trying to get healthy but it was a good experience, it was something different – got to eat some different food, see some different things. The overall experience was really dope.

“[The jet lag was bad the] first night, but after that, I was pretty solid.”

Poe: “It’s tough the first day, just the jet lag. The city itself was amazing. There was a lot of stuff to do, I feel like there was a positive vibe. My family liked it, I showed my son a couple of things. It was nice.”

Burns: “It was cool. It was honestly a great experience, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of deal – just being able to be out here and embrace a different culture and a different look, a different vibe. It was an amazing experience and I enjoyed it.”

Spurs Stadium continues to impress

These interviews took place after the game in locker rooms inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium that were designed specifically to house NFL teams, and the Panthers were the heavily favoured team by fans on the day despite Tampa Bay being the ‘designed home team’.

Last week, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said the stadium was “definitely one of, if not the best, stadiums I’ve ever been at in my life,” and the Panthers’ players echoed his view a new home for the NFL in London.

Jackson: “Beautiful, amazing. The fans made it even better, they came out and cheered for us, so that made it even better.”

Poe: “Stadium is state of the art. One of the best ones I’ve been in and it is legit.”


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