Four Downs: Panthers beat Bucs, reclaim top spot in NFC South
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Fighting for their playoff lives, the Carolina Panthers trotted out a backup quarterback to take the field against Tampa Bay. Derek Anderson did just fine and made no major errors and guided the Panthers to the 19-17 win Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. Here are four observations from the game:
Numerous Carolina fans had been clamoring at least a month for Carolina backup quarterback Derek Anderson to replace Cam Newton in the starting lineup due to the latter's poor play, but not for the reason that it wound up precipitating it. Anderson was inserted into the Panthers' starting lineup after Newton was involved in a car wreck in which the truck he was driving flipped at least four times, according to witnesses.
Given the opportunity, though, Anderson, who's been with Carolina (5-8-1) four seasons, didn't disappoint, giving fans exactly what they thought they'd see from him all along.
Anderson, who made the Pro Bowl in 2007 as a starter for the Cleveland Browns, was solid and didn't make any crucial mistakes and managed the game perfectly. He finished the day going 25 of 40 for 277 yards and a touchdown. The one interception he threw was negated by a roughing-the-passer penalty.
"Ultimately the goal is to win, whether you win by 40 or you win by two," Anderson said. "Not everything was as clean as we would have liked it, but overall I'm very happy about the win."
So, just how efficient was he?
Consider that he led the Panthers to four field goal tries on four possessions in the first half. In his first six possessions, Anderson guided Carolina to six opportunities to score. The Panthers had three field goals, one touchdown, a missed field goal and tailback Jonathan Stewart fumbled inside the Tampa 5-year line.
Moreover, in his first nine drives, each went inside the Buccaneers 40. He finished with a very solid quarterback rating of 91.4.
Anderson's most important drive of the game came when he took the field at his own 22 with 3:05 left to play in the fourth quarter and with a 19-17 lead. He was able to eat up just over 2:30 minutes of game clock before punting. Tampa took over at its own 10 with 23 seconds left. The game was over.
Even so, Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said Anderson was far from perfect.
"I wanted more from him," Rivera said. "He knows he could have put more points on the board."
It's not a coincidence that two of Carolina tight end Greg Olsen's best games this season have come with Anderson at quarterback.
Olsen, who is likely headed to the Pro Bowl at season's end, was Anderson's security blanket all day. He finished with 10 receptions for 110 yards. In Week 1 against the same Buccaneers, Olsen finished with eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Rivera said it's because in situations where Newton might pull the ball down and scramble, Anderson dumps it off to Olsen, who is often times the check-down receiver.
"We have a ton of confidence in (Anderson)," Olsen said. "There's no scaling back with the playbook. ... We felt all week with some of their coverages that there would be some opportunities for the tight end to get open and make some plays, both short and kind of medium passing. We got off to a good start hitting those, and I think anytime you do that, we got into a nice rhythm and felt confident.
"He kept hanging on me. I think we were pretty efficient."
Even though the Panthers got the win and remain in the thick of the playoff hunt, Rivera was none too pleased with the way his team performed once it got into scoring position.
Nine times Carolina got inside the 40 of the Buccaneers, including four times inside their 20. However, the Panthers managed just 19 points as they had to settle for two field goals and lost a fumble at the 3.
"We can't let the win cover all that stuff up," Olsen said. "That's going to get you beat down the road. It was more so the penalties in the red zone, and then we had that one turnover. ... We have to address that."
Rivera seemed especially irked at the way the offense played whenever it got within scoring position.
"I'm excited that we won, but I'm a little disappointed in how we won," he said.
It's difficult not to laugh when saying it out loud, but Carolina could still be in first place of the NFC South Division when the team wakes up Tuesday morning with just five wins.
Regardless if the Panthers are or aren't in first place, it's pretty much a given that none of the three teams involved in the playoff chase will know until after the final game of the season.
"We've been very fortunate this season that our division has panned out the way it has," Panthers center Ryan Kalil said.
The one fact is that the Saints (5-8) control their own destiny. If they win out, there's nothing anybody can do to catch them. If they lose at Chicago Monday night, then Atlanta (5-9) and Carolina control their own destiny.
In its final two games, Carolina is home next week to Cleveland, which got smoked by Cincinnati on Sunday, and then at Atlanta, which lost at home to Pittsburgh on Sunday, to finish the season.
The Saints are at Chicago Monday, then host Atlanta next week, before finishing the season at Tampa. The Falcons are at New Orleans next week and host Carolina to close the season.
New Orleans would go a long way toward making the playoffs with a win Monday against the Bears. But even if the Saints do win, Carolina would still be just a half game behind them in second place.
However, should New Orleans lose, the Panthers would vault into first.
"It's pretty crazy," Olsen said. "But we're not going to apologize for it."