Panthers linebacker becomes a regular

CHARLOTTE - Linebacker James Anderson believed if he got the chance to play regularly, it would be worth the wait - for him and the Carolina Panthers.

A third-round draft choice in 2006, Anderson's playing time the past two seasons was been limited to spotty special teams duties, but everything has changed the second half of this season.

Playing the linebacker slot that opened as a result of Thomas Davis' season-ending injury and a subsequent injury to Landon Johnson, Anderson has emerged as a solid replacement. It was never more evident than Sunday night, when Anderson had his most productive game of the season in the Panthers' 26-7 victory against Minnesota.

"The lights came on and he was an animal," safety Chris Harris said. "He set the tone, sparked it up.

"He was in on every tackle it seemed. Everywhere the ball was, he was there."

Statistically, the numbers were impressive. Anderson finished with 11 tackles, nine of them solo stops. He also sacked Brett Favre once and forced a hurried pass.

"When you do what those guys do, who I have the utmost respect for, that's all you can ask for, is an opportunity," Panthers coach John Fox said. "He's made the most of it and has done a good job. I thought probably his best performance was (against Minnesota)."

More than the numbers, it was the impact Anderson had on the game, especially early when both teams were trying to establish a physical presence.

Anderson got to Favre on the first play of the Vikings' second possession, sacking him for an 8-yard loss on the first of three consecutive three-and-out Minnesota possessions.

Moments later, Anderson introduced himself to all-world running back Adrian Peterson, stonewalling him near the line of scrimmage.

It helped build the foundation of a defensive performance that limited the Vikings to 237 yards and included four sacks of Favre.

So much for the notion the Panthers, eliminated from the playoff race, had little to play for against Minnesota.

"We had a lot to play for," said Anderson, who played collegiately at Virginia Tech. "A Hall of Fame quarterback. One of the best running backs in the league. Sunday night football. What else do you need?"

In Anderson's case, he's needed to stay healthy and get the chance to play regularly.

He played in all 16 games his rookie season, starting two. He made one start at middle linebacker in 2007 but played in only 10 games. He was limited to special teams appearances in eight games last season.

Over the past month, with Davis out and injury problems mounting, Anderson has played an increasingly effective role. He had 10 tackles against the New York Jets and nine against New England.

"I'm definitely playing with a lot more confidence," Anderson said. "Any time you get on the field and can play, you develop that confidence, that belief. It comes with the territory."