Carolina Panthers: Derek Anderson

For the final segment of this series, an analysis of how the Carolina Panthers distributed playing time among quarterbacks during the 2014 season.

Analysis: That Cam Newton was in for a career-low 78.6 percent of the offensive snaps -- he played 98.5 percent in 2013 -- says a lot about how his season went. It began with him missing the opener at Tampa Bay with fractured ribs. He missed a late-season game against the Buccaneers at home after being involved in a car crash. Injuries were a big part of his season and Carolina’s. The fractured ribs in particular were big. They forced the coaching staff to take Newton out of the run game for the first five games. What the snap counts don’t show about Derek Anderson's contribution was his record -- 2-0 as a starter. Without those wins the Panthers wouldn’t have won the down NFC South and made the playoffs. That Joe Webb is listed here and at wide receiver is telling. The Panthers brought Webb in to imitate what Newton does during offseason workouts and the early portion of training camp, when Newton was recovering from offseason ankle surgery. They kept him all season because of the uncertainty of whether Newton would remain healthy all season. Webb’s snap counts all came as a wide receiver after Newton recovered from the rib injury, but he took more than his fair share of snaps at quarterbacks in practice.
Next on my list of top moments that defined the Carolina Panthers in 2014 is an incident that was as scary as much as it was memorable.
  • No. 3: Newton's car crash
  • Date and place: Dec. 9, Church Street overpass near Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
  • The moment: Shortly after noon on a typical Tuesday off from practice, and two days after Carolina beat New Orleans, 41-10, to end a seven-game non-winning streak, quarterback Cam Newton was involved in a two-vehicle accident on his way to the stadium. He received two small fractures in his lower back when his truck rolled after being struck by another car. He was sidelined for the Week 15 game.
  • Why it was so significant: This may seem out of place because it didn't happen on the field, but let me explain. First, it symbolized what a tough year it was for Newton, from offseason ankle surgery that kept him out of organized team activities to fractured ribs in training camp that kept him out of the opener. This also symbolized how resilient and tight this team was during an injury-plagued season. Nothing showed that more than when backup quarterback Derek Anderson mimicked Newton's signature first-down move after scrambling eight yards for a first down in a victory over Tampa Bay five days after the wreck. "That was for my guy," Anderson said. The accident also had a profound life-changing effect on Newton, who led the team to a 3-1 record after his return. "I'm looking at this truck and thinking someone's supposed to be dead," he recalled of the accident. "I couldn't stop smiling. I'm on somebody's fantasy team, and I think it's the man upstairs."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Derek Anderson apparently has heard enough about deflated footballs.

The Carolina Panthers backup quarterback finally expressed his feelings on the controversy surrounding the New England Patriots and under-deflated footballs during the AFC Championship via Twitter on Thursday.

 

Anderson, who was 2-0 as a starter this past season when Cam Newton was injured, didn’t hesitate to address questions fans had regarding his tweet, either.

 

So far, nothing on “Deflate-Gate’’ from Cam Newton, whose recent tweets have been about style.

 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quarterback Derek Anderson was on a karaoke machine, chanting the Florida State "war chant" and doing the tomahawk chop to make it clear the former Oregon State star wouldn’t be cheering for rival Oregon in the college football playoffs.

Rookie wide receiver Philly Brown was calling out Alabama, saying the Crimson Tide set to face his Ohio State team was overrated. Tight end Brandon Williams was in his green Oregon letterman’s jacket, predicting a big victory against FSU.

Then to top it all, kicker Graham Gano, quarterback Cam Newton and fullback Richie Brockel were conspiring to send a message on punter Brad Nortman's hacked Twitter account to make it appear the former Wisconsin player was pulling for Auburn.

.

Yes, the Carolina Panthers locker room was loose two days before Saturday’s NFC wild card game against the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium.

It was noticeably different than before the Panthers lost to San Francisco 23-10 in last year’s NFC divisional game.

"It is noticeable," coach Ron Rivera said on Thursday. "It’s funny. You worry about those things. You worry about being too loose, you worry about being too tight.

"But I think right now they’re in a really good place."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Williams
David Newton/ESPN.comTight end Brandon Williams, showing off his Oregon jacket.
Rivera wasn’t so sure on Wednesday. He jumped on players after practice, believing their focus wasn’t totally on the game plan because of their antics between drills.

He was so concerned that he went back and looked at the tape.

Then he realized he was wrong.

"The tape was really good," Rivera said. "I got on them a little bit about it, but after I watched tape I realized it was about business. When they were on the field they were doing exactly what they needed to do. They were paying attention and doing things the right way.

"Then they would get off to the side and they’re kind of relaxed, which is great."

The Panthers (7-8-1) should be loose. They’re playing with house money, as even Rivera admitted, after winning their last four games to win the down NFC South and get into the playoffs.

"That’s what’s gotten them to where they are," Rivera said of being loose. "We’re where nobody expected us."

Rivera said Thursday’s practice was one of the more business-like of the season.

"But again, once they got to the sideline they were having fun and letting their personalities show,' he said. "They are loose right now. They seem to be focused. When it’s time to be, they’re business-like when they need to be, and that’s a huge plus."

An example -- on one of the last plays of practice the defense made a mistake. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis gathered everyone after practice and made them run the play again.

"That’s what I’m talking about in terms of the business-like attitude right now," Rivera said. "Hey, we're going to have fun, we’re going to be loose.

"But when it’s time to get between those white lines we’re going to be focused and try to reflect that business-like attitude we need."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams appears set to play in Saturday's NFC wild-card playoff against the Arizona Cardinals.

Ponder
Williams
Williams has missed the past four games with a fracture in his right hand. He was listed as probable for Sunday's 34-3 win at Atlanta, but was placed on the inactive list.

Coach Ron Rivera said Williams, who took all the first-team reps while Jonathan Stewart got a veteran's day off on Tuesday, is closer to being ready than he was last week.

Despite the return of the team's all-time leading rusher, Stewart likely will start for the fifth straight game. Stewart has rushed for 486 yards the past five weeks.

Rivera said he's not worried about interrupting the chemistry the Panthers have developed with the running game by re-inserting Williams into the mix. Carolina has averaged close to 200 yards rushing since Williams was injured against Minnesota.

"He's part of this chemistry," Rivera said. "He's part of why we are where we are today. If he's healthy and ready to go he'll get his opportunities."

Meanwhile, backup quarterback Derek Anderson missed Tuesday's practice with the flu as the Panthers moved practice indoors to the Charlotte Convention Center.

Prediction: Panthers will beat Browns

December, 19, 2014
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It really doesn’t matter whether the Carolina Panthers play Cam Newton or Derek Anderson at quarterback against Cleveland on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

This will come down to defense. The Panthers will stop the run -- the last six teams have averaged 93.8 yards a game -- as they have so effectively the past month and a half and force Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel to beat them with his arm.

With Josh Norman playing as well as any cornerback in the NFL now -- he’s held Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans to a combined 11 catches for 110 yards -- he’ll shut down wide receiver Josh Gordon and take away one of Manziel’s best weapons.

Unless Manziel runs for more than 100 yards it’ll be tough for the Browns to score, much less win.

Manziel had a quarterback rating of 1 in his debut, tying him for the worst in a player’s first start in the last five years. The last two close to that number were Brandon Weeden (1.0) and Ryan Tannehill in 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Both rebounded nicely, Weeden with a 58.4 the following game and Tannehill an 83.3.

But the Panthers have too much to play for with the NFC South title still within their grasp if they win their final two games and New Orleans loses one to let Manziel beat them. That they’re playing their best defense of the season also speaks volumes.

And in case you missed it, Newton is on target to start 12 days after breaking two small bones in his lower back in a vehicle accident.

My prediction: Panthers 24, Browns 9
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Derek Anderson didn’t leave Cleveland under the best of terms in 2009. Admittedly frustrated after being cut, he called the fans “ruthless’’ and said they “didn’t deserve a winner.’’

[+] EnlargeDerek Anderson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsIf Cam Newton can't go, Derek Anderson would love to get the start against the Browns, his former team.
 “I will never forget getting cheered when I was injured,’’ Anderson said at the time. “I know at times I wasn’t great. I hope and pray I’m playing when my team comes to town and [we] roll them.’’

That opportunity could come on Sunday.

The Carolina Panthers still haven’t decided whether starting quarterback Cam Newton will return after suffering two small fractures in his lower back nine days ago in a two-vehicle crash near Bank of America Stadium.

If Newton can’t play, Anderson will get his second straight start and third of the season when Carolina (5-8-1) faces the Browns (7-7) in Charlotte.

Anderson is a realist. He knows Newton’s competitive spirit and that if he continues to progress from what he did in Wednesday’s practice, it will be hard to not start the two-time Pro Bowl selection.

Anderson also makes no secret he’d love to face the Browns, although not because of the things he said five years ago.

“The whole situation and how the whole thing went down in the last few months wasn’t great,” Anderson said on Wednesday. “I said some things I regret saying when I left.

“But it’s over with, I’ve moved on. I’m happy. I wasn’t in a great place when I left. I’m in a lot better place now.”

Carolina tight end Greg Olsen has said repeatedly there are a lot of NFL teams that would love to have Anderson as their starter. He wouldn’t bite when asked if one of those teams is Cleveland.

The Browns haven’t had a consistent quarterback since Anderson was cut. Brian Hoyer was benched last week in favor of first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel, who had a disastrous debut with a passer rating of 27.3 in a 30-0 loss to Cincinnati.

Anderson is 2-0 as a starter this year with a passer rating of 105.2.

“I know it’s been a while since he played there, but I’m sure he would be excited to go show them what he’s capable of these many years later after they kind of showed him the door,” Olsen said. “It’s been kind of a revolving quarterback position there ever since.”

But this game isn’t about revenge for Anderson as much as it is doing whatever he can to keep the Panthers in the playoff hunt. Carolina needs to win its final two games against the Browns and Atlanta, along with a New Orleans loss, to repeat as NFC South champions.

“It’s out of my control,’’ Anderson said of whether he starts or not. “I just have to continue to have a very good understanding of what we’re going to do. If I play, I’ll play and be ready to go.’’

That the opponent is Cleveland does make this intriguing, though. Anderson went to the Pro Bowl with the Browns in 2007 after passing for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns en route to a 10-5 record as the starter.

He was 16-18 as a starter during his five seasons that he described as “up and down, wonderful at times.’’

But Anderson isn’t focused on those times or the bitter feelings he had back then.

“I’ve moved on from it,’’ Anderson said. “I’m focused on us.’’

 

Browns vs. Panthers preview

December, 18, 2014
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. TV: CBS

Welcome to Johnny Football versus Who Will Get The Football.

There's still some uncertainty whether the Carolina Panthers will start Cam Newton or Derek Anderson at quarterback opposite the Cleveland Browns' Johnny Manziel.

If it's Newton, who broke two small bones in his lower back when his truck rolled in a two-vehicle accident last week, it will be the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner versus the 2012 winner.

If it's Anderson, it will be the Browns' quarterback of the past (2005-09) versus the Browns' quarterback of the future.

The Panthers remain in the hunt for the NFC South title. At 5-8-1, they need to win out and they need New Orleans to lose one of its final two games to repeat as division champions. The Browns (7-7) have lost three straight and four of their past five to fall out of playoff contention.

ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton and ESPN Browns reporter Pat McManamon are here to break this one down:

Newton: Pat, now that the Browns have opened up the Johnny Football can of worms, do you think he gives Cleveland the best chance to win this week?

McManamon: If it's based on hype and hope, sure. He can win. But so can Connor Shaw, and he's on the practice squad. If you base it on college achievement, Manziel should win. He was tremendous in college. But college achievement means less than nothing in the NFL. If you base it on reality and the way Manziel played against Cincinnati, he gives them less than a 1-in-10 chance to win. Not even Mike Pettine tried to sell the "best chance to win" card, as Monday he said Manziel gives the Browns "an opportunity to win."

Manziel should improve in his second start. Logic says there's nothing to do but improve. The Browns have to desperately hope he does, because if Manziel doesn't show more than he did in his debut there are serious issues at quarterback in 2015. As for winning, the final two games are about evaluating No. 2.

Let's flip the script on Manziel, David. The Bengals were nearly jumping out of their uniforms to hit, sack and taunt Manziel on Sunday, and they were largely successful. Do you feel that's an attitude the Panthers will share, and would you expect some money signs on Sunday?

Newton: I haven't gotten that sense. The Panthers simply are happy when they get to the quarterback this season. They have only 31 sacks after leading the league with 60 last season. The absence of 2013 sack leader Greg Hardy, who is on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is heard in 2015, is a major factor there. And if anybody was going to do money signs it would be Hardy, who is all about the money. Perhaps cornerback Josh Norman would have a little fun with the money sign, but he'll be busy shadowing Josh Gordon. Never know, though.

Who do you think the Browns would rather see at quarterback for the Panthers? Newton and his running ability, if indeed the back injury will allow him to run? Or Anderson, who will face his former with something to prove?

McManamon: I'd guess they'd much rather see Anderson, because nobody wants to face an effective passer who also can run. If a quarterback is one or the other, defenses can take away what he does best. If a guy does things as well as Newton does throwing and running, the challenge increases. In the week leading up to Manziel's debut, Pettine admitted that it's easier when a defense can draw an X on the field and envision the quarterback being near that X most of the time. Newton is a 58 percent passer with 16 touchdowns. He averages 5 yards per carry. Anderson has a big arm and more experience than he had in Cleveland, and he'd be motivated to beat the Browns. But I'd still guess the Browns would rather face an immobile Anderson than a mobile Newton.

Are there any apologies taking place in Charlotte for the fact the Panthers are 5-8-1 and in the playoff hunt? Can they really win the division?

Newton: They hear the jokes nationally, but around here the fans and players are thankful there is a meaningful game in December. I'm pretty sure the Browns would trade places in a heartbeat if it meant they had a chance to make the playoffs. Can the Panthers really win the NFC South? As far as I'm concerned, it all comes down to what happens between New Orleans and Atlanta this Sunday. If the Falcons beat the Saints, as they did in Week 1, I can see Carolina winning out to take the division. If the Saints win, I can't see any way they lose to Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale. Then again, it has been a wacky season in the South, so predicting anything seems kind of silly.

What's the biggest reason for the Browns' skid after a solid start that had them looking like a contender to win the division?

McManamon: Three things. First, injuries depleted depth. The loss of center Alex Mack was crippling to the running game. Injuries to the defensive line and ILB Karlos Dansby affected the defense. Second, the running game took a serious turn south, which affected the play-action passing game. Finally, the uncertainty at quarterback affected Brian Hoyer, who pressed, and the team, which for the umpteenth year in a row found itself in the midst of a raging quarterback debate. One year the Browns will find themselves in a season when they know the starter and use the backup as a backup. Until that happens, real success will be elusive.

Luke Kuechly is an Ohio guy, from Cincinnati. His numbers seem nearly impossible. Is he that active, and does he rank among the best defensive players you've covered?

Newton: You're right, the numbers -- including 138 tackles this sesaon -- are ridiculous. At times it seems Kuechly is in on every play. While I'm partial to Carolina's original middle linebacker, Sam Mills, even at his best Sam wasn't in on the number of plays Kuechly is. I hesitate to say he's the best defensive player I ever covered. End Julius Peppers was pretty special. And when it came to sacks, Kevin Greene was a beast. But as far as all-around player, few can touch Kuechly. His work ethic is second to none, and he's always looking for ways to improve. He usually does, too. He'll be a factor in this game as he is in most for Carolina.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Perhaps it was a hint. At least an indication.

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was adamant on Wednesday he wasn't ready to name his starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

Newton
Newton
He still wants a few more days to evaluate if Cam Newton, eight days removed from suffering two small fractures in his lower back in a two-vehicle crash, is healthy enough to start.

He said how Newton looks on Thursday after a successful return to practice on Wednesday will be big.

So Rivera is playing his options close to the vest, knowing Derek Anderson is more than capable as the starter if called upon for a second straight week.

When asked if Newton will start if he looks ready to go, he gave one of his patented "we'll sees."

The hint might have come when Rivera said this felt like Week 2 when the Panthers were preparing for Detroit.

Newton sat out the opener against Tampa Bay, recovering from fractured ribs suffered during the preseason. He returned to practice full the following Wednesday and started against the Lions.

He was effective, too, despite not being allowed to run at will. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 100.2. He handled being sacked four times.

He also ran four times for 19 yards.

If this feels like Week 2, Newton will start.

The difference is, Rivera said on the Monday of the Detroit game that Newton was ready to roll, barring a setback. He hasn't been quite that bold this week.

But Newton showed no signs on Wednesday of a player who'd been through the trauma of a car accident. He sprinted arguably faster than he has all season from the field where the team stretched to the adjacent field where the first drill took place.

He made moves running the read option that looked more like a player trying to convince those watching he was ready than one showing off.

He showed no signs of being in pain.

Anderson might be the safe play at this point, but the Panthers (5-8-1) aren't in a position of needing to be safe with two games remaining and the NFC South title hanging in the balance.

Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said Newton's passes were "coming out with a lot of fire." Tight end Greg Olsen said Newton looked normal throwing the ball.

Rivera was impressed that Newton had a lot of zip on a couple of 60-yard passes that weren't completed.

It's been a tough season for the Panthers on and off the field. Their record isn't nearly what they had hoped.

That they have a chance to make the playoffs if they can win their final two games and New Orleans loses once is amazing.

Newton, unless he suffers a setback over the next two days, should play because he gives Carolina the best chance to turn a tough season potentially into a memorable one.

QB snapshot: Derek Anderson

December, 16, 2014
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A quick observation of quarterback Derek Anderson and how he played in the Carolina Panthers' 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay:

Anderson
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said it best: Anderson tends to stay in the pocket longer and go through his reads, while Cam Newton tends to pull the ball down and run sooner at the sign of trouble.

Perhaps that explains why Anderson completed 15 passes of 10 or more yards against the Buccaneers, while Newton had only seven the week before in a 41-10 victory over New Orleans. The longer the quarterback stays in the pocket, the longer the play has to develop, and the longer he gets to go through his progressions. Six of Anderson’s passes of 10 or more yards went to tight end Greg Olsen, who finished with 10 catches for 110 yards. The tight end often comes into play more the longer the quarterback stays in the pocket because he often has to block before he releases into his pattern.

Olsen had a team-high eight catches for 83 yards in Week 1, when Anderson replaced Newton against Tampa Bay.

“A guy like Derek Anderson is going to lean a lot more on his tight end, as opposed to his legs," Rivera said. “With Cam on some of those, he might have pulled it down and took off running, whereas Derek Anderson is going to stay in the pocket. That is one of the bigger differences between the two quarterbacks."

Those are differences Cleveland must prepare for with Newton's status, since he fractured two small bones in his lower back a week ago, still in question.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula didn't have any insight into whether quarterback Cam Newton would play on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns other than this.

"He didn't act like he wasn't getting ready to play," Shula said on Monday.

Newton suffered two small fractures in his lower back last Tuesday when his 1998 pickup truck rolled during a two-vehicle accident near Bank of America Stadium. The two-time Pro Bowler didn't play in Sunday's 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay.

But Shula said Newton was involved in team meetings on Monday and seemed to be moving better than he was last week.

Shula said Newton also was involved more than people think on Sunday, revealing the first pick of the 2011 draft called the first play of Carolina's drive that began with 3:05 remaining.

OK, Newton didn't tell Shula which play to call. But Shula heard over his headset Newton suggesting the play to quarterback coach Ken Dorsey.

So Shula audibled, and backup quarterback Derek Anderson connected with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on the right side for a 12-yard gain that moved the chains and helped Carolina run the clock down to 29 seconds before punting.

"I was thinking pass, but not that pass," Shula said.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson never will be mistaken for Cam Newton, but with just over four minutes left in the first quarter of Sunday's 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay, he made a Newton-like move.

Not the 8-yard scramble for a first down. Newton probably would have turned that into 18 yards -- or more.

It's what happened afterward.

Anderson got up, turned sideways toward the east end zone and pointed with his right arm and forefinger while bending his left elbow toward his helmet to signal first down.

"That was for my guy," Anderson said of Newton's signature move.

His guy is Newton, who on Tuesday was involved in an automobile accident in which the two-time Pro Bowl selection suffered two small fractures in his lower back. The injury put Anderson in the spotlight with the Panthers needing a victory to remain in the hunt for the NFC South title.

Anderson wasn't spectacular, leaving points on the field in the first half, when he was 1-for-7 in the red zone. But overall he was efficient enough -- 25-for-40 for 277 yards and a touchdown -- to get Carolina its second straight win.

That, coupled with Atlanta (5-9) losing to Pittsburgh, left the Panthers (5-8-1) in position of being in first place in the NFC South if New Orleans (5-8) loses on Monday night at Chicago.

"It wasn't perfect by any means," Anderson said.

But if Carolina were to win the division, Anderson will have played a big role. He's 2-0 against Tampa Bay, having led the Panthers to a 20-14 victory in the opener when Newton was recovering from fractured ribs.

While Newton still gives Carolina the best chance to win, the Panthers are more than capable of winning with Anderson if need be in the final two games against Cleveland (7-7) and Atlanta.

"Cam is Cam and it's never ideal to lose your starting quarterback, but to have a so-called backup who is like a starter-caliber quarterback is something a lot of teams don't have the luxury of having," tight end Greg Olsen said.

Olsen was a big reason for Anderson's success in both wins. He had a team-high 10 catches for 110 yards in this game after leading Carolina with eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown at Tampa.

"A guy like Derek Anderson is going to lean a lot more on his tight end as opposed to his legs," coach Ron Rivera said. "With Cam on some of those, he might have pulled it down and took off running."

Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes it's not. For Newton's long-term future, he'll have to lean on Olsen and others.

For the short term, the Panthers are more dangerous with Newton. While read-option plays were called, Anderson never was a threat to run. That never was more evident than the second half, when the Buccaneers stacked the front to stop running back Jonathan Stewart.

After rushing for 53 yards on 10 carries in the first half, Stewart was held to 20 yards on 12 carries in the second.

"I should have kept the one in the red zone," Anderson said as he recalled one read-option.

Anderson knows he could have done more. Rivera expected him to do more.

But he did more than enough even though the Bucs made it interesting with a late touchdown run by Josh McCown. Anderson even got the official to call a roughing-the-passer penalty to negate an interception.

"The dude grabbed my face mask," he said. "I got one out of three, so that's pretty good. I had been telling the official the whole game they were doing that."

Again, Anderson isn't Newton.

Newton doesn't say "dude," and he dresses up for postgame news conferences. Anderson wore basketball shoes, jeans, a sweater and a baseball cap.

Whether Anderson is called on to face his former Cleveland team, the one he led to a 10-6 record en route to the Pro Bowl in 2007, won't be known until later in the week.

Rivera said he won't make a decision on Newton's status until he has seen him on the field throwing for a practice or two.

Meanwhile, the Panthers know they can win with Anderson. Just don't expect a lot of first-down runs and Newton-like gestures out of him.

"I don't think he wants to major in that," said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to give Carolina a 16-10 lead. "He's been watching Cam way too much."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Carolina Panthers' 19-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
  • Quarterback Cam Newton, who did not play after suffering two small fractures in his lower back during a Tuesday automobile accident near Bank of America Stadium, sat by himself in his locker, checking out messages on his phone while his teammates celebrated. Asked what it was like being a spectator, he said, "You're talking to that guy today." Newton was referring to his replacement, Derek Anderson, who completed 25 of 40 pass attempts for 277 yards and one touchdown for a QB rating of 91.4.
  • Anderson
    Anderson on doing Newton's trademark first-down signal with his arms after running for a first down in the first half: "That was for my guy [Newton]. Somebody told me I wouldn't do it. I said if I get a run for a first down, I'll do it."
  • Cornerback Josh Norman on whether it feels real to be in a tight playoff race with New Orleans (5-8) and Atlanta (5-9) despite having a 5-8-1 record: "I don't know. Pinch me and we'll see. We've got to get these games. They're all lining up for us."
  • Somehow Norman wound up talking about his contact lenses. That led to a conversation about defensive end Greg Hardy (aka The Kraken) and the black contact lenses he wore in games before being placed on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved. "I miss that guy," Norman said. "Me and him out there together ... If we were on the field together, somebody would have to carry us off in a straitjacket."
  • Defensive end Charles Johnson, who had three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, on his strong finish to the season: "Just maxing out, man. Finishing the season strong."
  • Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who caught Carolina's only touchdown pass, said people can make a mockery of the Panthers being in the playoff hunt if they want. "People can make all the jokes they want," he said, "but at the end of the day, we're playing meaningful games."
  • Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he won't decide whether Newton is healthy enough to play next Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns until he sees him on the field Monday and Wednesday.

W2W4: Buccaneers at Panthers

December, 14, 2014
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Just when you thought the season couldn’t get crazier for the Carolina Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton was involved in an automobile accident that will keep him out of today’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In case you missed it, Newton’s 1998 Dodge truck rolled on Tuesday when struck by another vehicle at an intersection not far from Bank of America Stadium.

Newton escaped with two small fractures in his lower back similar to what Dallas quarterback Tony Romo had this season. Romo missed one start. Newton is out for at least one game.

That puts backup quarterback Derek Anderson back in the spotlight for the second time this season against the Bucs. He led the Panthers to a 20-14 victory at Tampa Bay in Week 1 when Newton was recovering from fractured ribs.

It’s a critical game for the Panthers (4-8-1), who basically need to win their final three games and hope New Orleans loses once to repeat as NFC South champions. They are half a game behind Atlanta (5-8) and New Orleans (5-8).

Here are three keys for the Panthers against Tampa Bay (2-11) in the 1 p.m. game at Bank of America Stadium:
  • Anderson
    Derek Anderson: For the first time in weeks, Newton isn’t in this spot. The good news for Carolina is Anderson played well in the opener against Tampa Bay, completing 24 of 34 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He actually ran for a first down. He will need to be just as efficient if not more today, although the Bucs have struggled to score in recent weeks. They have averaged 14.3 points in their past three games and have scored more than 17 only once in their past eight. If Anderson can manage the game and not make any mistakes, he might not have to produce a ton of points to put Carolina in position to get consecutive wins for only the second time this season.
  • Norman
    Josh Norman: The third-year cornerback didn’t take a defensive snap when the Panthers played Tampa in the opener, because the coaching staff wasn’t convinced he had exorcised all the demons that got him in trouble the past year and a half. Boy, has he proven them wrong. Norman has become Carolina’s best pass defender and a big reason the defense has turned its season around. He helped shut down Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin and Atlanta’s Julio Jones in consecutive weeks last month. He will probably be asked to shadow Atlanta rookie receiver Mike Evans in a similar way today. Evans has 57 catches for a team-best 935 yards and 10 touchdowns. Nobody else with the Bucs has more than two touchdown catches. Shut him down and you have basically cut off one of Tampa Bay’s legs.
  • Continuity: As much attention as Anderson will get because of the strange circumstances in which Newton was injured, this could come down to the offensive line. That the same five -- left tackle Byron Bell, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Ryan Kalil, right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Mike Remmers -- will be starting for the third consecutive game is key. They have paved the way for Carolina to rush for 449 yards the past two games. They didn’t allow a sack for the first time in six weeks and for only the second time all season last week at New Orleans. If they can keep running back Jonathan Stewart on his torrid pace (240 yards on 32 carries, 7.5 yards a carry) of the past two games and give Anderson time to throw, the Panthers might not even miss Newton.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- So far this week we have learned via Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton that "Superman" can be sidelined by an automobile accident and the "Man Upstairs" has a fantasy football team.

Check out this story if you have not been following all week.

Seriously, Newton is lucky and his Tuesday crash was a reminder to him and everyone that life is more important than football.

But football does go on, and there remain plenty of questions as the Panthers (4-8-1) prepare for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Tampa Bay without their star player.

I’m here to answer them for you:

@DNewtonESPN: Many are asking whether Derek Anderson has what it takes to win the final three games in case Newton doesn't return. Funny, a week ago some of you were asking if Anderson should be playing instead of Newton regardless. Then Newton went out and had a Player of the Week performance against New Orleans. Back to your question. Fullback Mike Tolbert certainly thinks Anderson has what it takes to win the final three games. Tolbert said he has as much faith in Anderson as he does Newton to not only win the final three games, but get Carolina to the Super Bowl. OK, that might be a stretch. That Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Atlanta are the opposition the next three weeks is favorable considering only the Browns (7-6) have a winning record. Anderson already has beaten Tampa Bay, and you know he would like a shot at the Browns organization where he made the Pro Bowl in 2007. Atlanta would be the toughest battle. The Falcons are explosive, and as well as the Carolina defense has played the past six weeks, I'd rather try to win a shootout with Newton than Anderson.

@DNewtonESPN: Not necessarily. Though you could then make a good case for keeping offensive coordinator Mike Shula -- and I'm not so sure you couldn't regardless -- special teams have underperformed so much that you still could see a shakeup. Remember, even if the Panthers make the playoffs, they will have a losing record. There is plenty of room for improvement. See next question and answer for more.

@DNewtonESPN: It's hard not to say both. I will say this: the Panthers let some key special teams players go after last season, none bigger than returner Ted Ginn Jr. But most of Carolina's problems haven't been with not having a proven returner. They have been with long returns by the other team, and of course the two blocked punts returned for touchdowns against Minnesota. At some point you have to say that is about preparation.

@DNewtonESPN: That would be fun, but it's still too early. The Panthers still have to win their next two and hope New Orleans loses to have a shot for the final game at Atlanta to mean a lot. If the Saints win out they are division champs regardless. The way this season has gone for the NFC South, I'd hate to predict anything. But I do like Carolina's chances, although Newton's injury does throw a wrench into things.

@DNewtonESPN: If you're leaving it open to all rounds, yes. If you're asking if they should use their first-round pick on a wide receiver, I'd say it depends on where they are picking. If they are in the top 10 and there is a solid tackle available, that would be a no-brainer -- unless wide receiver Amari Cooper of Alabama comes out and is available. But you would probably need a top five pick for him. Imagine that talent beside 2013 first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. There only are four or five tackles projected to go in the first round. Much will depend on free agency and what the Panthers do there. If you subscribe to ESPN's Insider, here is a look Insider at Mel Kiper Jr.'s top prospects so far..

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