CHARLOTTE – On the eve of his first regular season start at Bank of America Stadium since joining the Panthers in 2011, quarterback Derek Anderson couldn't sleep.
"After going through my plays last night at the hotel, I started seeing pictures in my mind. I just kept seeing them over and over, and I was like, 'Geez, go to bed,' " Anderson said. "So I turned the Golf Channel on and saw the Australian PGA go into a playoff. I fell asleep about the second or third playoff hole."
Anderson likely slept well Sunday night, and after the way he drove the ball, his last waking thought might have again been about a playoff.
Filling in for injured starter Cam Newton for the second time this season, Anderson again got the best of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to help Carolina regain the top spot in the NFC South.
"He played a heck of a game, but we knew he would," said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, the recipient of Anderson's lone touchdown pass in Sunday's 19-17 victory. "We have great confidence in him."
The Panthers have so much confidence in Anderson that Sunday's showing actually left something to be desired. Typically in this type of situation, a team turning to its backup is happy to win regardless of the details. But that wasn't the case, especially with it up in the air as to whether Anderson or Newton will be under center in Week 16.
"I wanted more from Derek," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Derek is a very capable quarterback, and he knows it. He knows he could have put some more points on the board.
"But I thought D.A. played well. I thought there were a lot of good things that went on."
Leading up to the game, Anderson told former left tackle and current Panthers Radio Network sideline reporter Jordan Gross that his goal was 25 completions, a number that he thought would give his receivers enough chances to make plays in space.
Anderson finished 25-for-40 for 277 yards, and many of his completions were in tight spaces.
"He did a tremendous job," said tight end Greg Olsen, who was targeted 13 times and caught 10 for 110 yards. "We got some good looks. We felt all week with some of their coverages that there would be opportunities for the tight end to get open, both in short and medium passing. We got off to a nice start hitting those. We got into a nice rhythm and felt confident."
Perhaps Anderson's biggest supporter off the field Sunday was Newton, who stayed involved on the sideline throughout. The quarterbacks shared a laugh when, late in the first quarter, Anderson scrambled 8 yards for a first down and followed with Newton's signature first down gesture.
"That was for my guy," Anderson said. "Somebody told me I wouldn't do it. I told them that if I ran for a first down, I promise you I will do it."
That was Anderson's only notable run of the game, but the lack of highlight-reel scrambles was about the only thing different about the offense the Panthers ran with Anderson as opposed to with Newton.
Carolina went to its no-huddle offense early, something that jumpstarted the victory at New Orleans last week but something with which Anderson had little game-day experience. But he handled that, too, like a veteran – because that's exactly what the 10-year pro is.
"He's a true professional," center Ryan Kalil said. "He does a great job. He makes sure he's up to speed on the game plan every week, and this week was really no different."