TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Cam Newton watched from the sideline as his backup handled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Derek Anderson filled in nicely for the injured two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns Sunday in Carolina’s 20-14 season-opening victory.
Despite rallying with two late touchdowns, it was an ugly debut for the Bucs under coach Lovie Smith. The defense applied little pressure on Anderson, and an offense that was one of the worst in the NFL a year ago showed few signs of improvement until midway through the fourth quarter.
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With Newton cheering on his teammates after being held out because of a rib injury suffered in preseason, Anderson completed 24 of 34 passes with no interceptions and one sack. The 10th-year pro tossed for TDs of 5 yards to Greg Olsen and 26 yards to rookie Kelvin Benjamin.
Carolina’s defense did its part, too.
The Panthers sacked Josh McCown three times and intercepted Smith’s hand-picked quarterback twice, both times on ill-advised throws.
McCown, a career backup 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, 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.
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. Benjamin had six for 92 yards.
Newton led a pair of lopsided victories over Tampa Bay a year ago, when the Panthers tied a franchise record with 12 victories. The first player selected in the 2011 draft posted career highs in completion percentage, touchdowns passing and passer rating. He injured his ribs Aug. 22 at New England, sat out Carolina’s preseason finale and was limited in practice last week after initially saying he was confident he’d play.
Newton had been listed as questionable, and Carolina coach Ron Rivera said it would be a game-time decision.
The dual-threat quarterback is the only player in league history to throw for more than 50 TDs, while rushing for 25 or more scores in the first three seasons of his career.
His 11,299 yards passing are the most in a player’s first three seasons, and his 2,032 rushing are the most by a quarterback through three seasons.
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