LONDON — Bucs rookie linebacker Devin White wants to be one of the best, and he realizes he has some learning to do to get there.
And in Sunday’s humbling 37-26 loss to the Panthers in London, he was taken to school.
White returned to the field in London, four weeks after an knee injury in Charlotte sidelined him, and in the first half he received a quick lesson from Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.
Leading 10-7, the Panthers had first-and-10 at the Bucs 25. White’s responsibility was to cover McCaffrey in the flat, but instead, he shadowed a receiver coming over the middle. That allowed McCaffrey to take a swing pass along the left side, break three tackles — including a stiff arm that knocked White down — on his way to the end zone.
"I know I have to be on top of my game because part of that next step in the NFL is mentally, being all the way in it, and I got caught slipping and I had to pay for it and that's a tough feeling," White said. "I still feel bad for it because if I didn't have that mental error, it would have been closer than what it was."
White exited the last meeting with the Panthers after six plays, so Sunday was just his second full game.
"I was trying to be greedy," White said. "I saw him in the flat just sitting there. It happens but it can't happen. That's the thing about being a great pro, little things like that can't happen.
McCaffrey's score marked the beginning of 17 unanswered points for the Panthers, who built leads of 27-7 and 34-10 before winning.
"I need to keep getting into my playbook, meeting with my coaches and just becoming more of a student of the game so I can play faster and just do my thing," White said.
The Bucs actually held McCaffrey to 57 yards, including 31 rushing. His lowest two totals this season have come against Tampa Bay.
Not so special teams
Bucs coach Bruce Arians is a stickler for special teams, and in recent weeks, he's pointed out the unit's weaknesses.
His assessment didn’t get better after Bobo Wilson fumbled two consecutive second-half punts, the second one leading to a Panthers recovery and an eventual Carolina field goal that helped seal its victory.
“The punt drop was huge in the game," Arians said. "We were fighting back, got within two scores I think at that point and time and had it going pretty good. Just catch the damn ball.”
On the turnover, the Bucs had narrowed the Carolina lead to 34-18 when Wilson misjudged the punt, awkwardly tried to catch it to his right and dropped it. It gave Carolina the ball at the Bucs 17.
“That’s on me, just got to judge the ball (better), make a clean catch,” Wilson said. “That was a big play at a big moment. That’s on me. I’ll make up for that. It won’t happen again.”
Wilson also muffed two punts in the first meeting with Carolina in Week 2 but recovered them. Former NFL coach Steve Mariucci, part of the broadcast team for the game, said Panthers punter Michael Palardy puts a different spin on the ball because he kicks with his left foot.
But even when Wilson catches the ball, he hasn’t provided a spark. The former Florida State receiver averages 2.8 yards per return, which ranks 43 among qualified return men.
Asked how Wilson has kept his job, Arians said, "Nobody's taken it from him yet. That's the problem. We'll be looking at it."
— Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who opened the season with nine sacks in the first four games, was held without a sack in a second straight sub-par game. Barrett had just one tackle in the game, and it didn’t come until 4:28 remaining in game. Interior linemen Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea each logged their first sacks of the season. Barrett has no sacks and just three tackles over the past two games.
— Former Buc Gerald McCoy, who has a quiet day in the teams’ first meeting, found his way into the backfield regularly in the Panthers’ defensive dominance. McCoy had 2 1/2 sacks, four quarterback hits and two tackles for a loss,
— Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said he was certain D.J. Moore was guilty of offensive pass interference on a big 23-yard reception along the left sideline. Hargreaves found himself well behind Moore, but replays clearly showed that Moore pushed Hargreaves off him with a fully extended arm to gain separation. “100 percent,” Hargreaves said when asked if he thought is was offensive interference.
— The Panthers tried a rare free kick with one second left in the first half. Kicker Joey Slye kick from the 50-yard line had the distance but went just wide right. “We felt because they were backed up, if we got the right kind of kick, we would have had the opportunity to put points on the board,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He just barely missed that. That would have been a terrific 60-yarder.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.