Buccaneers can’t overcome Cam Newton-less Panthers

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) is tackled in the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

David Manning/David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Lovie Smith’s defenses pride themselves on rushing the quarterback and forcing turnovers.

The Buccaneers didn’t do either well enough in losing 20-14 to the Carolina Panthers in their debut under Tampa Bay’s third coach in five years.

The defending NFC South champions played without injured Cam Newton, but it didn’t matter with backup Derek Anderson filling in nicely for the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

"That’s not exactly how we wanted to start the season. … We didn’t do too many things right," Smith said.

Newton was held out because of a rib injury suffered during the preseason, giving Anderson his first start since 2010 when played for the Arizona Cardinals.

The 10th-year pro had appeared in just four games and attempted only four passes over the previous two seasons playing behind Newton, who had started 48 consecutive games before learning Saturday night that coach Ron Rivera intended to sit him.

"He wasn’t very happy about it. He wanted to play so bad, in the worst way," Rivera said. "The one thing the doctor stressed to me was that if we could create one more opportunity, he’d be that much healthier. That was the decision."

Despite rallying with two late touchdowns, it was a sloppy debut for the Bucs (0-1). The defense applied little pressure on Anderson and failed to force a turnover.

And the offense, one of the worst in the NFL a year ago, showed few signs of improvement until midway through the fourth quarter.

Buccaneers vs. Panthers

"This is not what we planned on. Even when you think there’s going to be growing pains, there are still things you don’t plan for," quarterback Josh McCown said. "I’ll own this one."

With Newton cheering on his teammates from the sideline, Anderson completed 24 of 34 passes with no interceptions and one sack. The one-time starter for the Browns and Cardinals threw TD passes of 5 yards to Greg Olsen and 26 yards to rookie Kelvin Benjamin.

"I’ve been through a lot of different things. I haven’t been out there in four years. Just to play a solid football game and get a win was big for me," Anderson said.

"I prepared all week like I was going to start," he added. "I had a plan in mind, what I was going to do against different coverages, and went out there and tried to execute as best I can."

Carolina’s defense did its part, too.

The Panthers sacked McCown three times and intercepted Smith’s hand-picked quarterback twice, both times on ill-advised throws.

McCown, a career backup who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent, was coming off his best season as a pro in throwing for 13 TDs versus one interception filling in for an injured Jay Cutler in Chicago a year ago.

On Sunday, he was 22 of 35 for 183 yards and two TDs. Much of his production came after the Panthers built a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter.

"I made a couple bad decisions that hurt our team and put us in a bad situation. It’s things that I can clean up and get better, so there’s no need to focus on anybody else. … Those are things I can correct, and we’ll get better as we move forward," McCown said.

Luke Kuechly had one of Carolina’s three sacks and forced a fumble that set up Graham Gano’s 33-yard field goal in the final minute. The Bucs pulled within 17-14 on McCown’s TD throws of 19 yards to Chris Owusu and 6 yards to Bobby Rainey.

The Bucs got the ball back trailing by a field goal with 1:36 to go. But Kuechly, the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year — forced Rainey to fumble after a short reception on the next play, spoiling any hopes for a comeback.

Olsen finished with eight receptions for 83 yards, while Benjamin had six for 92 yards. Roman Harper and Antoine Cason had Carolina’s interceptions, and the Panthers limited Bucs running back Doug Martin to 9 yards rushing on nine attempts.

"We talk about the turnover ratio, and we talk about everything that went wrong throughout the game," Smith said. "And at the end we had a chance to intercept a ball, were down three points and could have gone in for at least a field goal, and we (dropped) it."

NOTES: The Bucs lost G Logan Mankins midway through the second quarter with a knee injury. … The Bucs rushed for 102 yards, but more than half of that came on fullback Jorvorskie Lane’s only carry. McCown scrambled for 27 yards on three attempts.