Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme is one of the most controversial quarterbacks in the league.
The media accuses him of being the weak link on the Panthers' offense because he’s so inconsistent and too often forces throws, which leads to a lot of interceptions. He is the difference between the Panthers winning and losing.
Some Panthers fans rip him for poor stats and costly mistakes at the wrong times. Others commend him for his leadership intangibles.
But nearly everyone associated with the NFL in some way, shape, or form is now criticizing him for his historically bad performance in the Panthers’ divisional playoff game against the Cardinals, in which he turned the ball over six times, including five interceptions.
Even Delhomme’s most loyal fans began to question his effectiveness in the aftermath of Arizona's unexpected blowout win. Many are now wondering if he should even be brought back next season as Carolina’s starting quarterback.
For people looking in from the outside, it’s a no-brainer. They think the Panthers won’t hesitate to get rid of Delhomme, and they may be shocked when they hear that head coach John Fox, barring something unexpected and bizarre, plans to bring Delhomme back as the Panthers’ starting QB for 2009.
The choice he’s leaning towards already, only a few days after the Panthers’ 2008 season ended, is absolutely the right one.
It’s true that Delhomme doesn’t have the best stats of any passer in the league. He’s also not the flashiest, most entertaining, and certainly not the most publicized or the funniest.
But he doesn’t care. He goes about his business like a true professional, not worried about personal statistics or accolades or how he looks on paper. The only thing he cares about is the success of the team.
If he cared about protecting himself in the face of public scrutiny, he would not have taken the exclusive blame for the Panthers’ loss to the Cardinals at the post-game press conference. He would not have apologized to his teammates after the game for “not giving us a chance” or said that “the work I put in this week was not enough” otherwise.
That’s the kind of thing that teammates love: owning up to your mistakes. That’s the No. 1 indicator of a team player.
What he does bring to the table is knowledge of how to win that only comes from experience. He has managed more fourth-quarter comeback wins than any of us care to remember—until he does it again.
Carolina’s defense is highly acclaimed most years. At the start of games, the Panthers’ defense usually is very good. But it often loosens up some in the second half, and Delhomme has bailed out these late defensive collapses more times than I care to think about.
Delhomme is also extremely competitive, a real fighter. No matter how badly he performs, he’s always out there on the next possession doing what he needs to do to give the team a chance to win. He never quits or gives up, and he gives it his all in practice every day.
Jake Delhomme may be aging—he turned 34 on Saturday—but I don’t believe his career will be over within the next year or two.
Health is no excuse for him to quit the game. He underwent complex reconstructive elbow surgery and spent the entire offseason getting his arm and elbow back to tip-top shape. He would be foolish to walk away before 2010.
Inadequacy is no reason for him to retire, either. He may not be the best passer in the NFL, but he is one of the best leaders and his leadership style fits the Panthers perfectly.
In addition, even though he and his receivers looked like they were playing together for the first time in their lives, he still has an uncanny chemistry with Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith. He’s also developing rapports with Dwayne Jarrett and DJ Hackett, along with a couple other potential pass catchers.
You saw what happened when the Panthers tried everything they could think of to fill the gap Delhomme left last year, when he missed almost the whole season after injuring his elbow so badly he simply couldn’t bear the pain anymore. It was painfully obvious that then-starting QB David Carr and Smith, in addition to any other Panthers receivers, were never on the same page.
So should Jake Delhomme be under center when the Panthers kick off their 2009 regular season? Absolutely.