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Carolina Panthers top Tampa Bay Buccaneers to stay alive in NFC South

Graham Gano #9 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates

Graham Gano #9 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates a 45 yard field goal in the 2nd half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 14, 2014 in Charlotte, N.C. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers are not giving up on the possibility of winning the NFC South with a losing record.

Derek Anderson threw for 277 yards and a touchdown, Graham Gano kicked four field goals and the Panthers defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-17 on Sunday to remain alive in the NFC South playoff race.

The win, coupled with Atlanta's loss to Pittsburgh, left the Panthers a half-game behind New Orleans in the division. Carolina (5-8-1) can move into sole possession of first place if the Saints lose to the Chicago Bears on Monday night.

If the Panthers win the division, they will be only the second NFL team to do so with a losing record in a non-strike-shortened season. The 2010 Seattle Seahawks were the other team to accomplish that feat.

Anderson completed 25 of 40 passes and improved to 2-0 as a starter in place of Cam Newton, who missed the game while recovering from a car accident Tuesday that left him with two fractures in his lower back.

Greg Olsen tied a career high with 10 catches for 110 yards, and rookie Kelvin Benjamin had eight grabs for 104 yards.

Josh McCown threw for one touchdown and ran for another to lead the Bucs (2-11). He was intercepted once by Luke Kuechly on a last-second heave from deep in his own territory.

The Panthers reached or started in Tampa Bay territory on all 10 drives, but managed just one touchdown and settled for five field-goal attempts.

They came into the game ranked 27th in red zone offense.

The game turned on the opening drive of the second half when Carolina defensive ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison converged to sack McCown at the Tampa Bay 4, jarring the ball loose. Kawann Short recovered, setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to Jerricho Cotchery to give Carolina a 16-10 lead they would never relinquish.

The Panthers had plenty of chances of build on that lead in the third quarter, but struggled to do so.

Jonathan Stewart fumbled at the Tampa Bay 3-yard line on Carolina's next possession and Akeem Spence recovered, keeping it a one-possession game. It was Stewart's first fumble since 2010.

Two other Carolina drives faltered just outside of field-goal range.

The Panthers finally got a 38-yard field goal from Gano to push the lead to 19-10 after Olsen caught his 10th pass on third-and-long to get Carolina into position.

The Bucs, who were limited to a combined minus-2 yards on their first four possessions in the third quarter, finally broke through late in the fourth quarter. McCown led an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, rambling 16 yards for the score with 3:11 left in the game.

The Bucs led 10-9 at halftime behind an 8-yard touchdown pass from McCown to Mike Evans, the rookie receiver's 11th TD catch of the season.

Anderson moved the Panthers into field-goal range on the first four drives with Gano converting from 29, 49 and 38 yards out, but missing from 50.

Tampa Bay entered the game without three defensive starters before losing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a knee injury late in the first quarter. He did not return.

Doug Martin ran for 96 yards on 14 carries for Tampa Bay.


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