Anderson leads linebackers

CHARLOTTE - With linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis out of the season, James Anderson has been pulled in every direction.

In last Sunday's victory over the Redskins, it looked like Anderson was in two places at once.

"I'm a blessed man," said Anderson, who spearheaded an inspired performance by a makeshift linebacker lineup. "A lot of prayer, a lot of hard work and a lot of guys doing their job around me allows me to do mine. It's great to come out and play well."

Anderson had 12 tackles, a key fumble recovery and an important sack. Middle linebacker Dan Connor added 10 tackles after totaling 10 tackles over his previous two starts. Weakside linebacker Jason Phillips didn't light up the stat sheet – with a pair of tackles – but he did what was asked of him and is expected to remain in the lineup for Sunday's home game against the Minnesota Vikings.

"I thought they played very well," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "James played probably one of his better games. The things he did to control what we wanted to do on the defensive side were outstanding. Dan Connor was solid, good against the run. He just seems to get better each week.

"Jason Phillips, I really liked the energy he brought and the physicality. He does have some limitations, but he knows them and he played to his strengths."

The two Williams – Thomas and Jason – remain in the mix, and Omar Gaither could soon return to the fold. Gaither has missed the last two games with a knee injury but practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.

With Beason and Davis on injured reserve, the Panthers are leaning on their linebacker depth.

"Everything we do is really by committee now," Rivera said. "We don't have guys that are on the field 60, 70 plays a game. We're talking about guys getting 25, 30 snaps a game, which is good because they can give you everything they've got when they're only out there 25, 30 snaps."

Anderson easily gets the most snaps among the group, and he made the most of them against the Redskins – particularly on key plays to close the first half and open the second half.

In a 6-6 game late in the first half, Anderson dove on a fumble forced by defensive end Charles Johnson to set up a last-second field goal for the halftime lead.

Then  on Washington's first possession of the second half, when the Redskins decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from Carolina's 40-yard line, Anderson and safety Charles Godfrey blitzed up the middle, with Anderson getting to quarterback John Beck for a pivotal sack.

Anderson called defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's design on the sack play "genius." It looked like the Panthers were bringing the house, but they actually only brought four pass rushers, with 314-pound defensive tackle Ronald Fields among those that initially stepped up like they were rushing before falling back in pass coverage.

"For James and Charles to get there like they did, it was just a great effort by those two," McDermott said. "The guys executed it well. It's a blitz we've practiced for a couple of weeks now, and we timed it up right. Really it came down to the coverage that made the quarterback hold the ball."

The play created a wave of momentum for the Panthers, and the offense responded by needing just two plays to reach the end zone – the first of three consecutive touchdown drives.

It's the kind of momentum that Anderson believes the team as a whole as well as the linebackers as a group can carry into Sunday's game and perhaps beyond.

"We've got to a lot of guys who at the beginning of the season no one thought would be playing. I'm extremely proud of these guys," Anderson said. "We've been so close in so many games, and everybody keeps saying, 'You're right there, right there, right there.' Now we've gotten over the hump, and we've just got to build on it and keep getting better."

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