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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will avoid facing Cam Newton for the second time this season.
The first time didn't work out so well.
Derek Anderson returns to the starting lineup for Carolina while Newton recovers from two fractures in his lower back sustained Tuesday when his truck overturned during a two-car accident that left him hospitalized.
Anderson started the season opener against the Bucs and turned in a solid, methodical performance, completing 24 of 34 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-14 win.
"It's obviously not an ideal situation to lose your starting quarterback, especially in this manner, but we have all the confidence in the world in Derek Anderson," said tight end Greg Olsen, who caught eight passes and a touchdown in the last meeting.
Newton's playing status will be reevaluated next week.
Anderson said he's prepared and ready to play. He warned the Panthers (4-8-1) can't simply expect to show up and beat the Buccaneers (2-11) because they have a better record.
"Yeah, they're 2-and-whatever, but they've been in every single game," Anderson said of Tampa Bay. "They play hard. They're scratching and fighting, just like we are every single week. So it's not like we just roll it out there and say, 'Hey, we beat them once. We're going to beat them again.'"
Anderson's record as an NFL starter is 19-25.
"The one game I saw him play in person, he played like a starting quarterback," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said.
Despite their record, the Panthers still have plenty at stake. They're a half-game behind Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFC South with three games remaining. If the Panthers win all three and the Saints lose one, they'll repeat as NFC South champions. They would join the Seattle Seahawks as the only team in NFL history to reach the postseason with a losing record in a non-strike-shortened season.
The Seahawks won a postseason game in 2010 after finishing 7-9. They lost in the NFC divisional playoffs.
"It's not like teams that get in with (poor) records like that don't deserve to be in it if they're going to go around and win their first-round game," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
Things to look for Sunday between the Bucs and Panthers:
McCOWN STICKS AS STARTER: Despite Tampa Bay's struggles, Smith is sticking with veteran Josh McCown as his starting quarterback. There were some mumblings about Smith possibly turning to Mike Glennon down the stretch with the Bucs out of playoff contention. "We're not looking at guys. Just like every other week — the guys that start are the guys that I think give us the best chance to win," Smith said. "That's not going to change."
ROOKIES RECEIVERS: Both teams feature outstanding rookie wide receivers. The Panthers have Kelvin Benjamin, who has 59 receptions for 848 yards and nine touchdowns. The Bucs employ Mike Evans, who has 57 catches for 935 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I see Mike Evans doing a lot of things that Vincent Jackson was doing when he was younger," Rivera said. "He's a dynamic football player, he's a playmaker (and) he's physical."
RUNNING STRONG: It's a little perplexing that Rivera refuses to name Jonathan Stewart the starter, even after he put up 155 yards rushing against the Saints. Rivera seems wary about upsetting the franchise's all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams, who is recovering from a broken hand. Williams' status for Sunday remains up in the air after he missed last week.
LOOKING TO REPEAT: The Panthers finally put everything together last Sunday in a 41-10 rout of the Saints in New Orleans, helping them snap a seven-game winless streak. "The big emphasis we had going into the game was just get off to a better start, get off to a fast start," Olsen said. "... We accomplished just that and it seemed to kind of set the stage for the rest of the day."
HARDY ABSENT: The Panthers won't have defensive end Greg Hardy for this game. Hardy helped hold the Bucs scoreless in the season opener for three quarters before Tampa Bay added two late touchdowns to make the game close. Hardy remains the commissioner's exempt list awaiting an appeal on a domestic violence conviction.
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