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Bucs-Panthers: How Gerald McCoy got the Carolina sack party started

Tampa Bay was without two starters on the right side of its offensive line. Did McCoy and Co. exploit that weakness or simply win one-on-one battles?

LONDON — Gerald McCoy burst through the Bucs offensive line and sacked Jameis Winston in the first quarter.

The former Buccaneers defensive tackle, cut lose by coach Bruce Arians when Tampa Bay refused to pay his $13-million salary for 2019, kicked the ground and then glared at the Bucs bench.

It was the first sack of the season for McCoy, but there would be plenty more Sunday for him and the Panthers.

McCoy had 2.5 of the seven sacks allowed by the Bucs in their 37-26 loss to Carolina. Six came in the first half.

“He’s been kind of behind the scenes,’’ Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of McCoy.“Just doing his thing. Today was a great example. He had (2½) sacks. … Just played to his abilities and then some.’’

The Bucs knew they may have trouble protecting Winston. Right tackle Demar Dotson was out with hamstring and calf injuries. Right guard Alex Cappa broke his arm last week in New Orleans.

In their place was former Jaguars tackle Josh Wells, who was picked up just before the start of the season; and guard Earl Watford, who played for Arians at Arizona.

Arians said the Panthers tried to exploit the right side.

“We were trying to help them with the (running) back,” Arians said, adding that offensive coordinator did a good job of adjusting the Bucs pass protection.

"The one interception (Winston) got hit. He was going to right guy and his arm got hit. That was a big turnover.

“No excuses. Guys have to step up.’’

For the record, Wells and Watford didn’t make excuses.

“I think the coaches prepared us for every situation,’’ Wells said. “I’m sure there’s things I could do better. That we could do better collectively. But I’ve just got to get better and watch film.

“I think there’s an expectation that there shouldn’t be a drop-off.’’

But there certainly was. On back-to-back plays, the Bucs were overwhelmed by defensive end Vernon Butler, who stripped Winston of the ball each time. center Ryan Jensen recovered the first; Panthers linebacker Bruce Irvin the second.

“I take it personal being the center and kind of being the leader of the line,” Jensen said. "All five of us have just got to play better. We’ve got to give Jameis time. (Seven) sacks, we didn’t do a good job of that.’’

Left guard Ali Marpet said it was more of a case of getting beat one-on-one, the way he was on McCoy's first sack.

“We all played very bad,’’ Marpet said. “It wasn’t (one) side or the other. It’s on the whole offensive line because we weren’t good enough. It sucks. It feels like we lost it.

“We lost one-on-one matchups, so that’s going to lose you a football game."

The Panthers entered the game second in the NFL with 25 sacks, none by McCoy.

“I’m very happy for him,’’ Rivera said. “Again, it was against his former team. Being a player, you want to be able to say, hey, we got you. I know he will.’’

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow @NFLStroud