TAMPA, Fla. - The Carolina Panthers beat Tampa Bay 28-21 Sunday in spite of Jake Delhomme, not because of him.
Did you catch that last Carolina drive, the one where the Panthers ran the ball 15 times and Delhomme threw one very safe, short pass? That's called making sure your quarterback doesn't lose the game for you.
Fortunately for the Panthers, they ran the ball beautifully throughout the day. They finished with 267 rushing yards, the second-best performance in team history.
Unfortunately for the Panthers (2-3), they can't do that forever. Their quarterback has to be able to pass effectively to beat almost anyone in the league besides the awful Buccaneers (0-6). Right now, Delhomme simply isn't getting that done.
Delhomme had 65 passing yards - his lowest number ever in seven years as a Panther - on Sunday. He also fired two interceptions, giving him 10 this season.
Here's a scary stat: On average, every 13th pass Delhomme has thrown this season has been intercepted. The best NFL quarterbacks usually throw interceptions at a rate more like once every 40-50 passes.
You know it's never a good sign when a quarterback gets asked about an interception in his postgame press conference and he has to ask which interception you're talking about. That happened Sunday.
So has Delhomme lost his confidence? Not a single "ounce" of it, he insisted. He went on: "For me to lose confidence, I'm not even close. I'm not even remotely close. I know what's going on. So sure, would we like our numbers to be better? Probably so. But who cares? We won."
Yes, they won. Carolina is clearly a better team than Tampa Bay and probably should have won by 17. But first, a 97-yard kickoff return sliced a 21-7 Carolina lead to 21-14.
Then here came Bad Jake. On Delhomme's second interception of the day, he tried to get rid of the ball quickly against a blitz that wasn't picked up well by running back Jonathan Stewart.
Tampa Bay's Tanard Jackson, the backside safety on the play, picked the ball off and bolted 26 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly a game the Panthers once had in hand was tied at 21 in the fourth quarter.
"They did have the turnovers," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said after the game, "which we thought they would have."
Of course Morris thought that. Delhomme has been producing turnovers like McDonald's for much of this season.
I've already written earlier this season that Delhomme needed to be temporarily benched, so I'm not going to waste my time on that soapbox again right now. It's a lost cause. It's obvious John Fox has so little confidence in Matt Moore or A.J. Feeley that he will sink or swim with Delhomme all season.
The more relevant question now is what happens next? Delhomme said Tampa Bay had "two guys committed to [Steve] Smith every play but one or two."
It wasn't quite that many, but it was a lot. However, Delhomme did have a shot at going to Smith on his first pass of the game -- a deep ball against one-on-one coverage - and overthrew it.
In all, No.17 threw five times at No.89.
Three fell incomplete. One was intercepted. Another was caught, for a four-yard gain.
Smith said after the game: "I am no longer an asset to this team."
Now there's some frustration talking there. Smith knows that if he's taking up two defenders on nearly every play, that's obviously a good thing for Carolina.
But I don't blame him for being frustrated. Delhomme and Smith were once wondrous together. I remember talking to ESPN's Tony Kornheiser once on his radio show when they were on a hot streak and Kornheiser saying: "For the last few weeks, those two have been playing like Montana and Rice."
Now? Delhomme has thrown four TD passes all season (he had one Sunday, a 1-yarder to Jeff King). All four have been to tight ends.
Delhomme is now 9-2 in his career against Tampa Bay, which is excellent. But he just doesn't look like the same quarterback to me this year. Maybe his confidence truly is unfazed, but his production has been incredibly spotty.
Is this a problem? John Fox admitted to a "couple of mishaps in the passing game" in his postgame news conference. But when asked to elaborate, Fox bristled.
"Right now we got a 'W'," Fox said. "I'd rather not talk about problems." Asked again if he felt the need to protect Delhomme on the final drive, an irritated Fox wouldn't comment.
OK, fine. But ignoring this problem won't make it go away.
Delhomme iced last week's win over Washington with a fine quarterback scramble. The best thing you could say about him this week is he handed off 15 times without fumbling on that last drive.
That was good enough to win Sunday. Against almost everyone else, it won't be.
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