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Anderson improves to 2-0 as starter, Panthers beat Bucs 19-17 to stay alive in playoff race

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Carolina coach Ron Rivera said it's too soon to know who will start at quarterback next Sunday when the Panthers host the Cleveland Browns.

With Cam Newton resting his back following an automobile accident, Derek Anderson threw for 277 yards and a touchdown and picked up his second win of the season in a 19-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rivera said he won't make any decisions until possibly mid-week on Newton, who is recovering from two lower back fractures after flipping his truck on Tuesday in a two-car wreck.

"I'm not making any decisions until I get the opportunity to watch him on the football field, listen to what the trainers and doctors have to tell me, and then we will make our decision," Rivera said. "But to make any judgment right now would be premature and would be a mistake."

Anderson is 2-0 as Carolina's starter this season, although both wins have come against the lowly Bucs (2-12). Newton is 3-8-1.

Rivera thought Anderson did some good things, but wanted him to get into the end zone more. The Panthers reached or started in Tampa Bay territory on every possession Sunday, but scored just 19 points.

"I wanted more for Derek Anderson," Rivera said. "Derek is a very capable football player and he knows it. We talked about it during the game. He knows he could have put some more points on the board."

Newton appeared to be moving around well on the sideline, but Rivera said he's unsure when the fourth-year quarterback will begin throwing the ball. He said he'll know more on Wednesday.

PHOTO: Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh McCown (12) fumbles the ball as Carolina Panthers' Charles Johnson (95) closes in during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. McCown recovered his own fumble. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh McCown (12) fumbles the ball as Carolina Panthers' Charles Johnson (95) closes in during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. McCown recovered his own fumble. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Anderson said he knows once Newton is healthy, he'll be handing the reins of the offense back to the two-time Pro Bowl selection.

"I know what kind of person he is, what kind of competitor he is," Anderson said. "If he can play, if he feels like he can play and go out there and win football games for us, he'll do that."

Here are some things to know about Carolina's second straight win and Tampa Bay's fourth straight loss:

FLOUNDERING OFFENSE: The Bucs have scored 17 points or fewer in 11 of their 14 games, including each of the last four. On their first four drives of the third quarter on Sunday, the Bucs totaled minus-2 yards on offense.

OLSEN ON A TEAR: Panthers tight end Greg Olsen appears to be on his way to his first Pro Bowl. For the second straight week, Olsen caught 10 passes. He finished with 110 yards. He has 81 receptions for 960 yards and six touchdowns this season. "If I see him one-on-one with a guy that I know can't cover him, I have a lot of confidence in what he's going to do," Anderson said.

MOVING PARTS: Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith shuffled his offensive line by benching Anthony Collins and moving Demar Dotson to left tackle. Oniel Cousins started at right tackle. The Bucs ran for 155 yards, but surrendered three sacks leading to two forced fumbles. "We just thought for him in general, our best tackle, can he play the left side?" Smith said. "Trying to win football games, but thought he would be able to handle that. ... I thought he did a decent job."

STILL IN THE HUNT: Amazing as it sounds, the Panthers lead the NFC South despite a 5-8-1 record. New Orleans is 5-8 heading into Monday night's game at Chicago, and Atlanta dropped to 5-9 with Sunday's 27-20 loss to Pittsburgh. "It's pretty crazy," Olsen said. "But we're not going to apologize for it."

DEFENSIVE IMPROVING: Carolina's defense has been steadily improving over the past half-dozen games. It limited Tampa Bay to 287 yards and 15 first downs on Sunday, while sacking Josh McCown three times and forcing three turnovers. That might be enough to get by in upcoming games against Cleveland and Atlanta, but what remains to be seen is if they have improved enough to compete against a playoff-caliber team should the Panthers qualify for the postseason.


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