Cam Newton took an unfamiliar role to heart, working the sideline to encourage teammates and do anything he could to help the Carolina Panthers win.
The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback even went on the field and get into the huddle while sitting out his first game because of injury at any level in his career.
"He ran out there to bring water, I guess, but the referees pointed it out," coach Ron Rivera said Sunday after backup Derek Anderson filled in nicely for Newton in a 20-14 season-opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We were able to calm him down and just get to slow down," Rivera added. "I'm telling you, he just wants to be out there. ... He wants to be a part of everything we do."
Anderson threw for 230 yards, including touchdowns of 5 yards to Greg Olsen and 26 yards to Kelvin Benjamin. The Panthers defense sacked Josh McCown three times and had two interceptions and a fumble recovery that helped sealed the game in the closing minutes.
Newton was held out because of a rib injury suffered during the preseason, giving Anderson his first start since 2010 when played for the Arizona Cardinals.
The 10th-year pro had appeared in just four games and attempted only four passes over the previous two seasons playing behind Newton, who had started 48 consecutive games before learning Saturday night that Rivera intended to sit him.
"He wasn't very happy about it. He wanted to play so bad, in the worst way," Rivera said. "The one thing the doctor stressed to me was that if we could create one more opportunity, he'd be that much healthier. That was the decision."
Despite rallying with two late touchdowns, it was an ugly debut for the Bucs (0-1) under coach Lovie Smith. The defense applied little pressure on Anderson and failed to force a turnover. And the offense, one of the worst in the NFL a year ago, showed few signs of improvement until midway through the fourth quarter.
McCown, a career backup who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent, was coming off his best season as a pro in throwing for 13 TDs versus one interception filling in for an injured Jay Cutler in Chicago a year ago.
On Sunday, he was 22 of 35 for 183 yards and two TDs. Much of his production came after the Panthers built a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
"This is not what we planned on. Even when you think there's going to be growing pains, there are still things you don't plan for," said McCown, whose interceptions both came on ill-advised throws made with the pass rush converging on him. "I'll own this one."
Things to note as the Panthers and Bucs move on to Week 2:
NOWHERE TO RUN: The Buccaneers rushed for 102 yards, but more than half came on fullback Jorvorskie Lane's 54-yard gain on his his only carry. McCown scrambled for 27 yards on three attempts, and running back Doug Martin was limited to 9 yards and nine carries. It didn't help that the offensive line lost guard Logan Mankins with left knee injury midway through the second quarter.
PLENTY OF SUPPORT: Anderson got plenty of help, with Olsen catching eight passes for 83 yards and Benjamin finishing with six receptions for 92 yards in his first pro game. The Panthers rushed for 113 yards, with DeAngelo Williams gaining 72 on 14 carries. Carolina had 334 yards total offense.
CAM UPDATE: Rivera said he expects Newton to be ready to play next week at home against Detroit. If not, the coach reiterated that Carolina is fortunate to have two backups he has confidence in. "Derek's an established quarterback and Joe (Webb) had a great preseason for us, so I felt very comfortable with the situation we were going to have," Rivera said.
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