TAMPA, Fla. — Derek Anderson did his part to give Cam Newton a chance to get healthy.
The veteran backup filled in nicely for the injured two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns Sunday in Carolina’s 20-14 season-opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Newton was held out because of a rib injury suffered during the preseason, giving Anderson his first start since 2010 when played for the Arizona Cardinals.
The 10th-year pro had appeared in just four games and attempted only four passes over the previous two seasons playing behind Newton, who had started 48 consecutive games before learning Saturday night that coach Ron Rivera intended to sit him.
“He wasn’t very happy about it. He wanted to play so bad, in the worst way,” Rivera said. “The one thing the doctor stressed to me was that if we could create one more opportunity, he’d be that much healthier. That was the decision.”
Despite rallying with two late touchdowns, it was an ugly debut for the Bucs (0-1) under coach Lovie Smith. The defense applied little pressure on Anderson and failed to force a turnover. And the offense, that was one of the worst in the NFL a year ago, showed few signs of improvement until midway through the fourth quarter.
With Newton cheering on his teammates from the sideline, Anderson completed 24 of 34 passes with no interceptions and one sack. The one-time starter for the Browns and Cardinals threw TD passes of 5 yards to Greg Olsen and 26 yards to rookie Kelvin Benjamin.
“I’ve been through a lot of different things. I haven’t been out there in four years. Just to play a solid football game and get a win was big for me,” Anderson said.
“I prepared all week like I was going to start,” he added. “I had a plan in mind, what I was going to do against different coverages, and went out there and tried to execute as best I can.”
Carolina’s defense did its part, too.
The Panthers sacked Josh McCown three times and intercepted Smith’s hand-picked quarterback twice, both times on ill-advised throws.
McCown, a career backup, was coming off his best season as a pro in throwing for 13 TDs versus one interception filling in for an injured Jay Cutler in Chicago a year ago.
On Sunday, he was 22 of 35 for 183 yards and two TDs. Much of his production came after the Panthers built a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
“I made a couple bad decisions that hurt our team and put us in a bad situation. It’s things that I can clean up and get better, so there’s no need to focus on anybody else. ... Those are things I can correct, and we’ll get better as we move forward,” McCown said.
Luke Kuechly had one of Carolina’s three sacks and forced a fumble that set up Graham Gano’s 33-yard field goal in the final minute. The Bucs pulled within 17-14 on McCown’s TD throws of 19 yards to Chris Owusu and 6 yards to Bobby Rainey.
The Bucs got the ball back trailing by a field goal with 1:36 to go. But Kuechly, the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year — forced Rainey to fumble after a short reception on the next play, spoiling any hopes for a comeback.
Olsen finished with eight receptions for 83 yards, while Benjamin had six for 92 yards. Roman Harper and Antoine Cason had Carolina’s interceptions, and the Panthers limited Bucs running back Doug Martin to 9 yards rushing on nine attempts.
“We got ourselves in a hole in the first half, didn’t do many things right,” Smith said. “We talk about the turnover ratio, and we talk about everything that went wrong throughout the game. And at the end we had a chance to intercept a ball, were down three points and could have gone in for at least a field goal, and we (dropped) it.”
Newton led a pair of lopsided victories over Tampa Bay a year ago, when the Panthers tied a franchise record with 12 wins. The first player selected in the 2011 draft posted career highs in completion percentage, touchdowns passing and passer rating. He injured his ribs Aug. 22 at New England, sat out Carolina’s preseason finale and was limited in practice last week after initially saying he was confident he’d play.