The Carolina Panthers turned to Derek Anderson for this week’s game with Cam Newton still recovering from his back injury that he suffered in a car accident. Anderson did exactly what he needed to by playing mistake-free football and kept Carolina’s playoff hopes alive in the process. He finished the game 25 of 40 for 277 yards and one touchdown.
The former Pro Bowl quarterback is in his fourth season with the Panthers however hasn’t seen much playing time prior to this season. He had actually thrown a total of four passes in his first three seasons. However he has started two games this year, both against Tampa Bay, and has come away with two wins. He hasn’t played much this year but if the Panthers make the playoffs, Anderson could end up being a major reason why.
After an incredible performance against the New Orleans Saints, there was expected to be some regression from this group. The trio of Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert combined for 90 yards on 26 rushing attempts and no touchdowns.
Stewart saw a majority of the work (22 carries for 73 yards) but wasn’t as reliable as in weeks past. He ended the day with two fumbles and lost one. The fumble almost cost the Panthers the game with it coming in the third quarter with Carolina inside the five yard line looking to go up by two scores. Next week seems to be another favorable matchup as they go up against the struggling Cleveland Browns defense. This is one the running backs should take advantage of.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
It was clear that Derek Anderson had two favorite targets on Sunday. Greg Olsen had 10 receptions for 110 yards and Kelvin Benjmain had 8 receptions for 104 yards, with both each getting 13 targets. The rest of the Panthers receivers had a fairly quiet day with only 14 targets and 63 receiving yards.
Veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery did have the lone touchdown for the Panthers on a beautiful diving catch in the end zone. Cotchery is a great veteran to have at the wide receiver position as he hasn’t had many opportunities this season but when his number is call always seems to make the play.
This group continues to one up itself each week and now has had three straight games with strong performances. The impressive part is that they are doing this with players who have little NFL experience. Left guard Andrew Norwell and right guard Trai Turner are both rookies while right tackle Mike Remmers has been in the league two years but got his first start three weeks ago against Minnesota.
One of the reasons that Derek Anderson was so successful was that he had time in the pocket to find the open receiver and able to step into his throw without defenders around his feet. The offensive line has really started to come together and could possibly be major contributors past this season.
The re-emergence of the Panthers pass rush has been a welcome sight for this defense, especially defensive end Charles Johnson. The eighth-year player from Georgia was all over the field with four tackles, two for a loss, and a strip-sack in the third quarter that set Carolina up for their only touchdown. He now has 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the last four games.
It wasn’t all good as the interior of the Panthers defensive line struggled stopping the Bucs running game and a couple of times were moved out of the way to create massive running lanes. The trio of Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Dwan Edwards have been solid most of the year so hopefully this was more of a fluke rather than a trend.
Similar to the defensive tackles, this was an off game for middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. He is usually the foundation for the defense in the center of the field but against Tampa Bay did not look like the same #59. He really struggled against the run and missed a couple of key tackles and found himself out of position at times. He did make up for it with a huge interception late in the game that sealed the victory for the Panthers.
The defense did have a bit of a scare when Thomas Davis had to leave the game in the second half with a knee injury. However, it doesn’t appear to be too serious as he was able to return later in the game but it is worth paying attention to this week during practice.
The Panthers secondary has been playing shut down football for the past eight quarters now. After a touchdown by Mike Evans on the opening drive, this group really tightened up and shut down the Bucs’ passing attack. Quarterback Josh McCown completed less than 50 percent of his passes (13 of 28) and threw for only 154 yards.
Just like the offensive line, the secondary has been awful for most of the season however the younger players like Bene Benwikere and Tre Boston have really stepped up. They are playing at a much higher level than the players they replaced and should make the offseason much easier for the front office. The secondary does not look as much now like a pressing need as it did four weeks ago.
The special teams had their lapses throughout the game but it wasn’t crippling blows that cost the Panthers the game. Bucs’ returner Bobby Rainey was able to return only one of three punts on Sunday but that one he was able to return 25 yards.
The Panthers offense struggled in the red zone and it was up to Graham Gano to put points up on the board. He hit four of his five field goal attempts. Two of those makes were from 45 and 49 yards which aren’t chip shots by any means.