London will always be home for emotional Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada

Press Association Sport 11:13 14/10/2019
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Efe Obada was emotional after the Panthers' victory.

A tearful Efe Obada broke down at the end of his press conference after he captained the Carolina Panthers to a 37-26 win over NFC South rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

It was a special and memorable trip for the Panthers – their first to London – and it meant that little bit more to defensive end Obada.

The 27-year-old only took up the sport five years ago while living in England, where he had ended up after being trafficked from the Netherlands.

Born in Nigeria, the Carolina number 94 has enjoyed a remarkable journey since living on the streets in London.

“It was everything I wanted, honestly. Everything and more,” Panthers honorary captain for the day Obada said.

“When we were coming out the tunnel, it was electric. I had family in the stands. Most of them don’t even understand what I’m doing, but they believe in me and have been supporting me for years. For me to be in London, just to show them, was real special.

“Even yesterday, just knowing that tomorrow I’m going to be able to play in Tottenham, it was good.”

Obada was abandoned at the age of 10 in London along with his sister and although he has been in America since first joining the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2015, the capital of England will always be home.

It was also where he watched his first live NFL game – the Miami Dolphins against the Oakland Raiders at Wembley five years ago.

He added: “I’m grateful Tottenham has dedicated the stadium, these locker rooms, to the NFL. It’s just a testament to show how the sport is growing in London and all across Europe.

“London is home. London is where my roots were and is. It’s always going to be home. That’s what I miss.”

When leaving the pitch at full-time, Obada was afforded a big send off and reflecting on it brought him to tears.

“There were a lot of stages in my life that if someone told me I would be here right now, I’d laugh at them. But I’m here,” said the 6ft 6in defensive end.

“That one (moment) is going to stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera admitted he could not take the credit for allowing Obada to captain them against Tampa Bay.

“That was really cool. I talked to several of the players, asked them what they thought about it. They were all for it. They thought it would be outstanding,” Rivera said.

“First of all, I can’t take credit. It wasn’t my own idea. One of your very own had the great idea, I stole it, took it, ran with it.

“He was terrific. I presented him with the stars for his shirt, for his jersey. It was cool. One of those moments.

“Like I said before, there’s several of these young men, all they’ve ever wanted was an opportunity.

“That’s all we’ve done, we’ve been able to give those guys an opportunity. He epitomises a story of a young man who all he needed was an opportunity.”

The second NFL match at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium did not have the drama of the first fixture at the venue – when the Oakland Raiders recovered from blowing a 17-0 lead to win 24-21 against the Chicago Bears – but it did produce plenty of excitement.

Christian McCaffrey showed exactly why he is being talked about as a potential MVP candidate with two touchdowns and Curtis Samuel also made it into the end zone twice.

A late rally from Tampa Bay made the final scoreline closer, but what was not up for debate was the popularity of the first purpose-built NFL stadium outside of the United States in its second fixture.

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston said: “I am happy we had a lot of fans come out. It was an amazing atmosphere.

“But home game, away game, London game, you’ve got to protect the football.”

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Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians hoping for loud atmosphere as Buccaneers take on Panthers in London

Sport360 staff 13:23 12/10/2019
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is hoping for a loud atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium when the Florida team take on the Carolina Panthers in London on Sunday.

The Buccaneers will aim to secure a season sweep of the Panthers as the second of four NFL International Series games takes place in London, at the sport’s new home of Spurs’ new stadium.

The Oakland Raiders defeated the Chicago Bears 24-21 in the first game held last weekend. And Winston is hoping for a noisy atmosphere.

“Last week we had, we played in the Superdome in New Orleans and that is a very loud place,” said the former No1 overall draft pick.


“Honestly, we really enjoy loud atmospheres so we are really hoping that the fans come out there, and they are excited and enthusiastic and help lead us to victory.”








Wembley Stadium will host two further games this season – the Cincinnati Bengals against the Los Angeles Rams on October 27, and the Houston Texans v the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 3.


Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is hoping his side can play better than the last time they were in London.


Tampa Bay have played in London twice before and lost on both occasions – to the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears, in 2009 and 2011 respectively.


“Yeah it’s always, it’s fun. It is different, the crowd is different,” said veteran coach Arians.


“The noise level is totally different than it is in the States because it never dies. So it is a lot of energy, a lot of fun. I just hope we play a hell of a lot better than the last time we were here.”


The Bucs will aim to enjoy a successful trip third time around and level their season at 3-3 before a rest week on their return to the US.



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San Francisco 49ers deliver prime time answer to question of whether they're the real deal

Matt Jones - Editor 07:25 09/10/2019
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Jimmy Garoppolo celebrates with 49ers tight end George Kittle after their fourth TD.

After five weeks of the season, just two of the NFL’s 32 teams own perfect records. That one of them is the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots is no surprise whatsoever. That the other is the San Francisco 49ers – who haven’t posted a winning season for six years – is a little more so.

The 49ers annihilated the Cleveland Browns 31-3 on Monday night to improve to 4-0, with the 5-0 Patriots the only other team in the league boasting a 100 per cent start.

That Kyle Shanahan’s men can be spoken about in the same sentence as the Pats (remember, the season has barely started) has launched the 49ers into a parallel universe compared to where they were eight months ago, when they finished as the second-worst team in the league.

Their resurgence may come as a surprise. But there has been little luck involved in the boys from the Bay Area’s perfect start to 2019 – save for maybe the five turnovers made against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3. When you make that many errors in an NFL game, you really should get beat. Instead they found a way to win, and they’ve passed every test they have faced…so far.

But how would they fare under the lights at Levi’s Stadium on Monday night? There are games in the NFL, and then there is Monday Night Football. America, the world, is watching and Prime Time can do funny things to players and teams. They can freeze up under the intense heat.

The 49ers, however, sizzled under the Santa Clara lights and torched the Browns, holding arguably the best wide receiver in the league – Odell Beckham Jr – to just 27 yards receiving, while bright young quarterback Baker Mayfield was kept in the shadows by Jimmy Garoppolo.

Beckham’s two catches matched how many he caught the previous week against Baltimore when he had a career-low 20-yard performance.

For last year’s No1 draft pick Mayfield, it was even worse. He completed just eight of 22 passes for a career-low 100 yards, a miserable 13.4 passer rating, threw two interceptions, fumbled twice and was sacked four times before being pulled in the fourth quarter. It’s the first time in 18 career starts that he failed to throw a touchdown pass.

There were many illuminating performances under the Monday Night Lights for the hosts though. Running back Matt Breida rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Tevin Coleman, on his return from injury, rushed for 97 yards and a score. George Kittle grabbed his first TD of the season, while quarterback Garoppolo had a quietly efficient game.

A terrifying defence was led on the field by the No2 overall draft pick, Nick Bosa, who picked the biggest night of the season to shine – five tackles, two sacks – and on the sidelines by defensive co-ordinator Robert Saleh who might have been fired in the off-season.

The defence – led by veteran cornerback Richard Sherman – is beginning to climb to the scarily high levels of the Jim Harbaugh era.

Colin Kaepernick’s unique quarterback style captured the imagination in 2012 but it was the Niners’ stellar defence that got them to the Super Bowl, and the NFC Championship game the year after.

NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis was a linebacker corps to strike fear into any team, in any generation.

In 2019, read defensive linemen Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Bosa, and linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner.

Ford, Bosa and Alexander are all new additions to a unit that struggled under Saleh last year, someone many Niners fans hoped would be let go – especially as they set an NFL record for the fewest turnovers in a season (seven).

They have matched that in their first three games this year and added four more on Monday to sit joint second overall with the Green Bay Packers – only the Patriots and Steelers (12) have more.

Other numbers prove their prowess too; the Niners are in the top five for total yards allowed (257.5 – 2nd), passing yards (175.8 – 2nd) and rushing yards (81.8 – 5th).

On offence, meanwhile, the run game is hitting its stride. It could have been derailed when Coleman, considered the No1 back, missed four weeks after injuring himself on the opening day. In his absence Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr have stepped up admirably – with Breida and Mostert set to share the work with former Atlanta Falcons man Coleman going forward.

A huge component of that back-field committee is full-back Kyle Juszczyk – his injury against the Browns will be a concern – who is making the position cool again. They have all contributed to the 49ers posting a game average 200 yards rushing this season – which leads the league.

In the passing game Shanahan has one of the league’s top three tight ends in Kittle – who is legitimately their No1 receiver. The 49ers don’t possess a five-star wideout of the DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill or Devante Adams gold standard variety. What they do have is Kittle – who set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end last season with 1,377.

The receiver situation is slightly opaque but there is certainly talent at the position. Marquise Goodwin, 28, is approaching his peak but Kendrick Bourne, Richie James (both 24), Dante Pettis and Deebo Samuel (both 23) possess plenty of promise and potential.

Overall, the 49ers have accrued 427.2 yards of offence per game – fourth best in the league.

Before Monday night, they beat the Buccaneers 31-17 in Tampa on opening day and then brutalised the Bengals in Cincinnati 41-17 before overcoming adversity to defeat Pittsburgh 24-20 at home. The carving up of Cleveland is the third time in four games San Fran have surpassed 30 points.

Fortune favoured them against the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers. But more than luck, victory was a result of something else – the 49ers are simply an all-round much better team than they have been in the six years since they lost the 2013 NFC Championship game to the Seattle Seahawks. That came a year after losing Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens.

They have been in freefall ever since – posting seasons of 8-8, 5-11, 2-14, 6-10 and 4-12. But things are finally looking up.

They began the week defending a 3-0 start – they had not done likewise since 1998. The last time they opened up with four straight wins was 1990, when the reigning Super Bowl champions lost the NFC Championship game.

As the records keep tumbling for the 49ers, so too do the team’s critics and naysayers. But, just because they’re on par with the Patriots right now, does not mean they’ll be there with them come February 2 at Super Bowl LIV.

Even the Patriots are not guaranteed of featuring – although only a fool would feel they won’t at least be in the reckoning – in the grand finale, taking place at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins.

For now San Fran should just ride the current wave of euphoria. Named after the prospectors who flooded northern California during the Gold Rush, the 49ers are steeped in rich Super Bowl success. After years of famine, who’s to say they won’t find fortune once more this season.

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