The Carolina Panthers are on a slightly more ‘away’ game this weekend than normal, traveling to London to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The excitement and spectacle of a London game is compounded even more by the fact that this is a divisional game, two NFC South rivals clashing on foreign soil.
Sporting a 3-2 record thus far, the Panthers have had a stronger start, however, the Bucs have been unpredictable. They toppled the Super Bowl attendee Los Angeles Rams in a wild shootout in Week 4, but then lost to another division rival in the Saints, last week, leaving them at 2-3.
The Carolina team landed in London slightly early – flying in on Wednesday night – to give their team an extra day to acclimatise themselves, and practiced in full on Friday (October 11th) in the early afternoon.
Head Coach Ron Rivera spoke at a pre-practice press conference, featuring both British and American media.
Coach Rivera was quick to share how positive the experience has been thus far, saying: “We went out into [London] last night, and met a lot of folks – what a great experience. The people here in the UK are very warm, and it’s been a neat experience so far.”
The Panthers players have been urged to enjoy themselves and make the most of the trip while still staying focused on Sunday:
“I’ve told the guys, both teams have to come over here, so don’t feel that you don’t have a great experience in front of you, I’ve been using the phrase ‘be where your feet are’. Wherever you are, focus in on that, whether you’re on the practice field, or you’re in a meeting room, or on the game field – just be where you are.
“But then when you’re not, when you’re with your family and friends, or your out in the town, enjoy that, because it is a great experience.
“It’s been terrific, it really has.”
Rivera had put a clear emphasis on this week not feeling different to a normal game, particularly with their London practice: “One thing we’ve been talking about all week is that we’re trying to make today as normal a Friday as possible.
“We’ll go through all of our regular Friday routine. This is situational football today for us, so we’ll practice as normally as we can.”
One thing that was interesting was that the Panthers are very conscious of the weather and conditions, taking precautions to be prepared for the wet turf – courtesy of some very British weather on Friday morning – as well as being careful during practice.
He said: “With the wet turf we’re going to be careful with a few guys.” He later mentioned Christian McCaffrey, Ed Reid and Donte Jackson for this, but made it clear that any suggestion of limited work was dictated by the wet ground, and playing it safe.
Rivera spoke further to confirm Christian McCaffrey’s health, saying: “Christian’s fine, if we practiced yesterday, he would have participated, and he’s going to participate today.”
The superstar running back was carrying a minor injury into the week, and Rivera accepted that it may have been a result of the highlight-reel somersault that put him into the end zone for a score in Week 5, however McCaffrey didn’t say anything until after the game.
After practice, McCaffrey confirmed that he felt healthy and would be ready to go for Sunday. He looked great on the field and appeared to be fully involved in the session and participating in the team running plays.
McCaffrey serves as the face of the Panthers, and has already seen lots of support after a day in London:
“I enjoy it when anybody comes up and says ‘hi’ or wants to shake my hand. At the end of the day, it’s cool to have fans, it means a lot. As a kid you grow up and you dream of being in this position, and when you’re here you’ve got to appreciate it because one day it’ll be gone.”
“It seems like everybody’s really excited that American Football is here, so that’s the coolest thing for us – just seeing the global impact that the sport has had.”
McCaffrey hasn’t been to the stadium yet but is looking forward to seeing it tomorrow in walkthroughs and then on gameday:
“I know they put a lot of money into [the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium]. I’m definitely excited to go out there and play. It should be a lot of fun.”
Another young player who has been successful over the first five weeks is second-year Quarterback Kyle Allen, who was signed to Carolina as an undrafted free agent last season, but who has stepped up in the place of an injured Cam Newton leading the team to go 3-0 in his three starts this year.
Allen spoke on how he feels ahead of the game as well as his confidence that the team is ready to go:
“I feel very prepared. I think we’ve got in a good week of work, and we’ve adjusted well to coming over here and the new time zone, and the practice. So, I think we’re ready to go.”
The starting QB also noted that he thinks that there’s an advantage to the team traveling earlier than some others do, as was arguably evidenced by the Raiders victory against the Bears last week:
“I think the earlier you can get out here the better. We came out on Wednesday night, and everyone’s finally getting really adjusted and settled in, and then we’ve got all day [Saturday] and so I think everyone’s going to be great.”
Tight end Greg Olsen, more of a veteran – having played for over a decade – isn’t any more experienced than the youngest players this weekend, but he seemed to have enjoyed the trip so far:
“It’s been a great experience, it’s been fun. I haven’t really gotten to see too much yet, but the fans have been really excited to have us out here, and it’s been my first time being to a European city, so it’s been pretty cool.”
As with Coach Rivera though, Olsen has his eyes firmly fixed on their primary goal – and that comes down to Sunday:
“Obviously, the number one objective first and foremost is to come out here and win – prepare well, play well. I think we’ve had a really good week of practice; we were able to get two of our work days done before we flew out here, and then today we finished out the week.”
The divisional rivals will battle it out at 2:30PM and the game is being shown on Sky Sports.
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