Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Bucs.
A QUARTERBACK: Derek Anderson waited more than three years for his moment, but he delivered. Anderson didn’t do anything fancy, but he was efficient and put the ball where it needed to be. The Panthers know they can count on the veteran if Cam Newton’s ribs need another week to heal.
B RUNNING BACKS: DeAngelo Williams found a lot of room on the edge, rushing for 72 yards and averaging 5.1 yards a carry. Even without Newton running the zone read, the Panthers stuck with their ground game and picked up tough yards on a hot day.
B RECEIVERS: Tight end Greg Olsen was targeted 10 times and caught a game-high eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers forced the Bucs to pick their poison a couple of times with Olsen in the seam and rookie Kelvin Benjamin (six catches for 92 yards and a TD) along the sideline. It was a good look against the Bucs’ Tampa 2.
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A- OFFENSIVE LINE: The line gave Anderson a nice pocket and allowed him to get in an early rhythm. The Panthers allowed just one sack on a screen play, and coach Ron Rivera indicated it wasn’t the fault of the line. Line coach John Matsko did a nice job keeping fresh bodies in the game.
B DEFENSIVE LINE: The Panthers picked up where they left off last season, generating pressure with their front four. Dwan Edwards was moving well on stunts, and had a sack and a pressure. Greg Hardy also had a sack. Bucs QB Josh McCown was under pressure on both of his interceptions.
B+ LINEBACKERS: Have a day, Luke Kuechly. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year had the game-saving play when he forced Bobby Rainey to fumble on the Bucs’ next-to-last possession. Kuechly had seven tackles and was in good coverage on a tipped McCown pass that was intercepted. A.J. Klein didn’t come off of a block on a 54-yard run by fullback Jorvorskie Lane.
B DEFENSIVE BACKS: Cornerback Antoine Cason had nine tackles, and also notched his first interception as a Panther. Strong safety Roman Harper, another offseason addition, had an interception and a couple of big hits.
C SPECIAL TEAMS: The punt coverage team was spotty, allowing Solomon Patton to average 14 yards on four returns, with a long of 33. Undrafted rookie Philly Brown, after an average preseason, got free for a 23-yard punt return. Graham Gano missed a 48-yard field goal after having to contend with the brass section of Bethune-Cookman’s marching band as he warmed up for the second half.
B COACHING: The Panthers had a good game plan for Anderson, allowing him to build confidence with some easy completions to backs and tight ends early in the game. Even without much of a running threat at quarterback, offensive coordinator Mike Shula was able to establish the running game. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott disguised his coverages and got pressure from his front four to get McCown off his reads.