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Panthers’ Rivera: Newton must be able to ‘protect himself’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the playoff-hopeful Panthers began their week of preparation Monday for the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Cam Newton’s status remained unclear.

If he can handle the pain from the two transverse fractures he suffered in last week’s car accident, there is a good chance he will start Sunday. But Newton still has many steps to pass before he gets there.

“The goal is to get him back on the practice field when he’s ready to. I don’t want to sit there and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to have him in there on Wednesday,'” coach Ron Rivera said. “We have an idea of what we’re hoping for, but we don’t know. If today goes well but tomorrow’s not very good, it sets him back. If today goes well and tomorrow goes well, then who knows? Take each day day-by-day.”

Newton spent early Monday afternoon watching tape of his teammates beating the Bucs from a day earlier. He was then expected to go through treatment with team trainers.

Recent history provides two examples that could foreshadow Newton’s quick return. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty each missed just one game after they suffered transverse fractures this year. But they are different players than Newton, who is often asked to absorb a number of hits per game.

“The biggest factor will be whether or not they tell me he can protect himself. I don’t want to put a guy out there that can’t protect himself. And by that, it’s having to be able to run out of the way, scramble out of the way, keep the play alive by being able to get out of the way,” Rivera said. “That’s all part of the decision that went into the first Tampa Bay game.”

Even though Newton wanted to play in the season opener against the Bucs, Rivera held his quarterback out. Newton’s cracked ribs were still not completely healed, and there was a fear they could have gotten worse if he took a direct shot. The healing process for the transverse fractures is different. The injury cannot get much worse. Dealing with the pain is a bigger factor.

If the Panthers decide to sit Newton against the Browns, Derek Anderson will start against the team that unceremoniously dumped him after the 2009 season. But as long as Newton does not have any setbacks, the odds are Anderson will return to his backup role this week.

“We’ve got two solid quarterbacks,” Rivera said. “We’ve got a young one that gives you all kinds of ability and potential, and you’ve got another one that’s very steady. It’s a great situation to be in.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to listen to the doctors and trainers, just like I did last time. When I hear what they have to say, and we go through it, I’ll listen to the coaches, and I’ll watch practice myself. We’ll draw that conclusion at the appropriate time.”

NOTES: QB Derek Anderson has won back-to-back starts for the first time since he led Cleveland to a pair of wins at the end of 2009. … RB Jonathan Stewart fumbled twice for the first time in his career. He lost one of those, the first fumble he has coughed up since Dec. 19, 2010. … RB DeAngelo Williams still had a cast on his hand Sunday while he sat out his second straight game. Williams got in some limited work last week, but he still has not caught the ball in practice. … TE Greg Olsen equaled his career high, which he set last week, with 10 receptions. He surpassed 100 receiving yards for the third time this season and the fourth time in his career. He has 81 catches this year, which breaks the team record he set in 2013 for most receptions by a tight end. … LB Luke Kuechly caught his first interception of the season. He had four last year and two in 2012. His six tackles were a season low.

REPORT CARD VS. BUCS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus — Backup Derek Anderson did his job, limiting mistakes and improving to 2-0 against the Bucs this year. In his two starts, Anderson has completed 49 of 74 passes for 507 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He targeted receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen 13 times apiece in the rematch, but Anderson and the offense struggled in Bucs’ territory.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C — RB Jonathan Stewart averaged 3.3 yards on 22 carries, the lowest clip he has ever had with at least 20 attempts. He also lost a fumble for the first time in 448 carries. Anderson obviously did not provide help in the running game as starter Cam Newton usually does.

–PASS DEFENSE: B — Bucs quarterback Josh McCown did not put up big numbers in the first half, but he was not forced into any mistakes, either. The former Panther was 6 of 10 for 68 yards and a touchdown at halftime. But then Carolina dialed up more pressure. After a first half without a sack or official quarterback hit, the Panthers had three sacks and five quarterback hits in the second. Defensive end Charles Johnson was especially active. Of McCown’s first four passes in the third quarter, Johnson had good pressure on three incompletions, and he combined with defensive end Mario Addison for a strip-sack that set up the Panthers for the go-ahead touchdown.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus — The Panthers gave up 151 rushing yards, the most they have allowed since the Bengals gained 193 in Week 6. Bucs RB Doug Martin broke off a 63-yard run that set up Tampa Bay’s first touchdown. The Panthers have allowed a league-worst five runs of at least 40 yards this season.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B — While the offense sputtered in Bucs’ territory, kicker Graham Gano made four of his five field goals. Brad Nortman did not punt until midway through the third quarter, but all three of his punts were downed inside the Bucs’ 20-yard line. The Panthers picked up a measly 15.3 yards on four kickoff returns, but Brenton Bersin had a career-best 18-yard punt return.

–COACHING: B — It wasn’t pretty, but coach Ron Rivera was able to keep his team in the ugly NFC South title race. The Bucs aren’t very good, but the Panthers’ staff deserves some bonus points for winning during a week when they saw their star quarterback injured in a car accident. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott dialed up effective pressure early in the third quarter that helped fluster McCown the rest of the way.


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