Can Panthers win with Derek Anderson?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Suppose for the sake of argument that quarterback Cam Newton can't start in the Carolina Panthers' Sept. 7 opener at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Suppose for the sake of argument his rib injury is worse than expected even though there's no indication it is.

Can the team win with backup Derek Anderson?

Anderson says yes, which you would expect because that's what he's paid to do.

Coach Ron Rivera says yes, noting Anderson is as good now as he was during his 2007 Pro Bowl season when he threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns in 15 starts for the Cleveland Browns.

"He really is,'' Rivera said on Monday. "He is as sharp now.''

Rivera wasn't supposing. He believes the hairline rib fracture Newton suffered in Friday night's 30-7 loss at the New England Patriots won't keep the two-time Pro Bowler out of the opener. He's game planning as though Newton will play.

But Anderson looked sharp through much of the preseason and even the offseason. He's completed 14 of 22 pass attempts for 234 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in three preseason games for a healthy quarterback rating of 110.8.

The 10th-year pro has spent more time throwing to Newton's new group of wide receivers than Newton, taking almost all of the first-team reps during offseason workouts while the first pick of the 2011 draft recovered from ankle surgery.

He started the preseason opener against Buffalo when Newton wasn't cleared to start.

Heck, if Anderson was in Cleveland now he might get the start over Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

Rivera has so much confidence in the 31-year-old Anderson that he insists there's not a separate game plan for him and Newton, although Anderson doesn't run the read-option.

There is a different game plan for the two this week, though. Newton will not play in Thursday night's exhibition finale against Pittsburgh and Anderson is on baby watch.

Anderson's first child was due on Saturday, and there's a chance he could miss the game to be there for the birth. If that happens, third-stringer Joe Webb would be the only quarterback available.

Fourth-stringer Matt Blanchard is out with a concussion.

But Anderson wants to play and be there for the birth of his child. Just because he's been Newton's backup the past three seasons, playing in only six games and throwing only four passes, doesn't mean he's lost his competitive edge.

He also believes he still can win despite going 8-17 as a starter from 2008 to 2010 with Cleveland and Arizona.

"That's why I'm here, when I'm called upon to come in and play well and win a football game when I'm needed,'' Anderson said.

Rivera said Anderson has taken the baby watch like he has everything else, "and that's in stride.''

You have to take things in stride to be a good backup.

That doesn't mean there aren't nerves -- at least about the baby watch. Anderson keeps his cell phone with him in team meetings -- special permission -- and his wife has trainer Ryan Vermillion's number in case something happens during practice.

You could tell Anderson was anxious to get home Monday and find out what the doctor said during his wife's afternoon appointment while he was on the field.

But as far as preparing as if he were going to be the starter in the opener, nothing's changed.

And Anderson doesn't suppose.

"The same preparation I've gone through every year for 10 years, Week 1,'' Anderson said. "Get ready to play, study my opponent, know their tendencies. If I've got to go, I've got to go and win a football game.''