TAMPA, Fla. -- It has been quite a month for quarterback Derek Anderson. He and his wife had their first baby in late August, and on Sunday Anderson started for the injured Cam Newton and played very well in Carolina's 20-14 season-opening win over Tampa Bay.
Anderson showed the accuracy he has always had, completing 24 of 33 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He avoided the big mistake and committed zero turnovers. His offensive line was good enough for the most part when protecting him that his lack of mobility was not an issue. And while few of his throws were spectacular -- most were low-risk passes that were 5-10 yards downfield -- Anderson ultimately outplayed his counterpart in Tampa starting quarterback Josh McCown (a former Panther himself).
The result was that Carolina won a season opener (barely) for the first time since 2008 and is tied early atop the NFC South with Atlanta (which beat New Orleans in a 37-34 OT thriller). A few other quick observations:
-- Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was fantastic, especially on a third-down sack that took Tampa Bay out of field-goal range and then the game-winning caused fumble when Tampa Bay had a chance to tie or win on its final possession. The Panthers defense did give up some late fourth-down yardage that made it far more interesting than it should have been, but overall had a winning performance (barely).
-- No, this does not create a quarterback controversy. Anderson is a really good backup quarterback, but he does not have Newton's creativity or athleticism. Still, if he needs to start another game or two or three -- it is unclear how long Newton will be out -- that works OK for Carolina.
It was good to see the return of "Riverboat Ron," as Coach Rivera who went for it on a critical fourth-and-1 inside the 10 in the second quarter and got it on an Anderson keeper, eventually leading to a Greg Olsen TD (the celebration is seen in the picture above).
-- McCown showed why the Panthers always went with Jake Delhomme during his years with the team. Both his early interceptions were bad decisions made under pressure. He got it going in the fourth quarter, though, showing some of the athleticism that led Charles Johnson earlier this week to claim that McCown was a good enough pickup basketball player to make it in the NBA. If not for Kuechly's caused fumble, the Panthers might have lost a heartbreaker.
-- Rookie Kelvin Benjamin's impact was enormous, and not just on his ridiculously good, 26-yard touchdown catch over an overmatched Tampa Bay defensive back who also got flagged on the play. Olsen's five-yard TD catch was in part due to the safety shading over to try to double-cover Benjamin.