Carolina comeback hopes fade when injured McCaffrey leaves

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers felt they beat themselves in a 31-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Four turnovers and nine penalties undermined the team’s chances. And, it didn’t help that star running back Christian McCaffrey was slowed — and eventually sidelined for most of the fourth quarter — by what coach Matt Rhule described as a lower leg injury.

“I have no update. He came out in the first quarter, too,” Rhule said Sunday, adding he wasn’t sure if the injury that forced McCaffrey to leave the game for one play early was the same that ended his day.

“I don’t know that. They just tell me up or down,” the coach said.

The Panthers cut into a 21-0 deficit with McCaffrey’s 1-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. His 7-yard scoring burst on fourth-and-2 trimmed the Tom Brady-led Bucs’ lead to 21-14 with 13:25 remaining.

McCaffrey, who was seen on the sideline getting his right ankle taped, did not return when the Panthers got the ball back and drove into Tampa Bay territory before Teddy Bridgewater threw his second interception of the game.

“It’s tough when you don’t have your best players on the field,” said Bridgewater, who threw for 367 yards but no TDs.

In addition to throwing two interceptions, the quarterback who signed with the Panthers in free agency was sacked five times and lost a fumble that set up Brady’s only TD pass of the day.

McCaffrey finished with 88 yards from scrimmage — 59 rushing on 18 attempts and 29 receiving on four receptions.

Backup Mike Davis gained 1 yard on his only rushing attempt, but caught eight passes for 74 yards.

“I’m just here to do my job and do whatever coaches ask me to do,” Davis said.

Meanwhile, the Panthers made a concerted effort to also get receiver Curtis Samuel involved in the running game.

Samuel, who played some running back at Ohio State, had four carries for 26 yards.

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