Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Buccaneers.
B QUARTERBACK: Derek Anderson told former Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross before the game he wanted to complete 25 passes and give his receivers a chance to make plays in space. Anderson was right on the number, completing 25 of 40 for 277 yards. Anderson’s longest completion was a 21-yarder to Kelvin Benjamin. But he avoided turnovers and beat the Bucs for the second time this year.
C- RUNNING BACKS: Jonathan Stewart had a pair of fumbles – one he lost inside the Bucs’ 5 and another later in the game that he recovered. Stewart rushed 22 times for 73 yards while starting for the second week in a row for DeAngelo Williams, the 31-year-old with a broken hand who missed his eighth game this season.
A RECEIVERS: Tight end Greg Olsen continued his season-tear. He caught 10 passes, matching the career high he set a week earlier at New Orleans. Olsen’s 20 catches are more than franchise receiving leader Steve Smith had in back-to-back games for the Panthers. Olsen (110) and Kelvin Benjamin (eight catches for 104) became the first Panthers receivers to top 100 yards in the same game since 2011.
B OFFENSIVE LINE: The running lanes weren’t as wide as they were against New Orleans, but the absence of Cam Newton played a big part in that. Anderson was sacked three times, but one came on a scramble when he was stopped for no gain. Continuity is helping the front five gain confidence each week.
A DEFENSIVE LINE: Ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison changed the course of the game when they combined for a sack of Josh McCown on the Bucs’ first possession of the second half. Addison’s strip of McCown was recovered by defensive tackle Kawann Short and gave the Panthers the ball at the Tampa Bay 4. Johnson has turned up his game the past few weeks.
C LINEBACKERS: Luke Kuechly (six tackles) and Thomas Davis (four) finished with season lows in tackles, although Kuechly ended Tampa Bay’s comeback hopes with an interception. Both were sealed off on Doug Martin’s 63-yard run on the Bucs’ second offensive snap. Davis hyperextended his left knee in the second half – not the knee that has undergone three ACL surgeries.
B DEFENSIVE BACKS: Cornerback Josh Norman was upset about giving up Mike Evans’ 8-yard touchdown catch in the first half. Norman was in good position, but the 6-foot-6 Evans went up over him to make the catch. Rookie safety Tre Boston tied Kuechly for the team high with six tackles, and veteran safety Roman Harper had a sack and strip of McCown, credited after a call was reversed on replay review.
C SPECIAL TEAMS: Graham Gano was 4-of-5 on field goals, with his only miss coming from 50 yards. Gano had touchbacks on five of his six kickoffs. Brenton Bersin fielded punts cleanly and had a career-long, 18-yard return. Fozzy Whittaker averaged 19.7 yards on three kickoff returns.
B COACHING: Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s decision to turn up the pressure on McCown in the second half changed momentum and field position. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula had a good plan against the Bucs’ Tampa 2 zone, exploiting the middle of the field with Olsen and Benjamin. Ron Rivera’s commitment to several young players after the bye week has resulted in an injection of speed and energy on both sides of the ball.