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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he'll take a wait-and-see approach as to whether or not quarterback Cam Newton will play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
Newton missed the second game of his career on Sunday against Tampa Bay after an automobile wreck last week left him with two fractures in his lower back.
"The biggest factor will be whether or not (team physicians) tell me he can protect himself," Rivera said Monday. "I don't want to put a guy out there if he can't protect himself. By that I mean being able to run out of the way, scramble out of the way to stay alive, keep the play alive, by being able to get out of the way."
Rivera said if Newton is unable to do that, Derek Anderson will make his third start of the season.
Anderson threw for 277 yards and a touchdown in Carolina's 19-17 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday. He's 2-0 as Carolina's starter with both wins coming against the Buccaneers (2-11).
Rivera said there is a misconception that Newton's injury is all about the quarterback's pain tolerance moving forward.
"It can get worse if he gets hit there again," Rivera said of Newton's two transverse process fractures in his back.
Players have Tuesday off, but Newton is expected to report to the stadium for rehab. The Panthers return to the practice field on Wednesday.
Rivera said the goal is to get Newton on the field "when he's ready."
"As he gets better (team physicians) will increase his workload until we get to a certain point where he gets back on the field," Rivera said.
The Panthers (5-8-1) are in the midst of a playoff race.
They can take over sole possession of first place in the NFC South if New Orleans loses to Chicago on Monday night.
Newton is 3-8-1 this year as the team's starting quarterback.
He has struggled through an injury-plagued season, undergoing ankle surgery in March and then fracturing his ribs during a preseason game at New England. Those injuries forced Newton to miss the season opener at Tampa Bay.
Rivera said Anderson did some good things filling in for Newton on Sunday, but said there was plenty of room for improvement.
The Panthers reached or started in Tampa Bay territory on all 11 possessions, but came away with just one touchdown and four field goals.
In fact, Carolina's only touchdown came after the defensive ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison sacked Bucs quarterback Josh McCown and stripped the ball loose, allowing defensive tackle Kawann Short to recover at the Tampa Bay 4. The Panthers scored two plays later on a short pass from Anderson to Jerricho Cotchery.
Carolina's struggles inside their opponent's 20-yard line are nothing new.
They rank 28th in the league in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on just 45 percent of their 40 possessions.
On Sunday, many of Carolina's red zone woes were self-inflicted.
The Panthers had a turnover at the Bucs 3, three penalties, a bobbled snap from center, a dropped pass and a few poorly thrown balls by Anderson that wound up being drive killers.
"Until you operate without self-inflicted mistakes you are going to slow yourself down," Rivera said.
Anderson said he was happy with the win, but felt he could have played better.
"I missed some throws, some things I just have to take that are there and make them tackle him," Anderson said after Sunday's game. "Efficiency-wise I feel like I could have been better."
NOTES: Rivera said linebacker Thomas Davis hyperextended his left knee on Sunday, but is expected to practice this week. That's not the same knee that Davis tore the ACL in three times. ... Defensive end Frank Alexander is eligible to return this week from a 10-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. ... Carolina signed defensive tackle Kyle Love and waived defensive tackle MIcanor Regis.
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