Carolina Panthers Doomed With Jake Delhomme? Don't Count On It.

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Carolina Panthers Doomed With Jake Delhomme?  Don't Count On It.
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Almost before the final whistle blew during Carolina's disappointing playoff game against the Cardinals, pundits were already outlining articles blaming the entire game on Jake Delhomme, and declaring that the Panthers would never win so long as he lined up under center.

For many of them, those articles were particularly easy to write.  All that was required was a basic restatement of prior columns and a perusal of various message boards around the region.  Armed with those resources, the material almost wrote itself.

There's a reason people say the most popular guy in town is the backup quarterback.  The one who gets the glory also bears the brunt of the blame where things go wrong.  And things couldn't have gone much more wrong for the Panthers than they did in their last game.

Yet despite the declarations of all the self-proclaimed experts out there, those who actually get paid to make personnel decisions decided to extend Delhomme's contract through the 2014 season in April.

Of course, this initiated an entirely new round of articles claiming the Panthers would never win with Delhomme.

Look around the Internet and you'll see prediction after prediction of the Panthers finishing in the middle of the pack.  Quarterback is the standard reason given. 

Mind you, this is the same quarterback who brought the Panthers to a 12-4 record in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, a procedure from which Jake Delhomme is the first quarterback ever to recover and resume playing.

But somehow, the 12-4 quarterback is the cited reason for the Panthers assumed inability to win.

Is this valid?  Are the Panthers doomed with Delhomme under center?

The answer is, it depends. 

If you subscribe to the notion that you're no better than your last game, and that Jake is a gunslinger without the accuracy to make that style work, then you might be able to make a case.

But if you reject those assumptions, then it becomes a lot harder to simply dismiss Delhomme as a failure, and as a millstone around the Panthers' collective necks.

The idea of being no better than your last game is absurd, and shouldn't even be discussed.  Jake's not the first quarterback to have a terrible game in the playoffs.

Hall of famer Dan Fouts had two five-interception playoff games during his tenure with the Chargers.

Peyton Manning threw four against New England in 2004.  This happened just a year after an awful game, where in a playoff loss to the Jets he finished with a rating of 31.2.

John Elway never threw more than three interceptions in a playoff game, but in his first super bowl he had a lousy 36.9 rating on three interceptions, and two years later his rating was a lowly 19.4 in a loss to the 49ers.

Speaking of super bowl choke artists, there's Rich Gannon and his five interception game against Tampa Bay in 2003.  Lest you forget, Gannon was a four time pro bowler and made first team all-pro twice.

Then there's Jim Kelly, who had a four interception game of his own in the 1992 playoffs.  He rebounded to lead his team back to the super bowl in 1993 and 1994.

So Delhomme's not in the worst company, although you would be hard pressed to find anyone who wants him to be on that list.  None of those quarterbacks allowed themselves to be defined by their poor performance in one playoff game, and neither will Jake.

And is he really that wildly inconsistent?  Not particularly.  He isn't the best quarterback in the league, but his stats are largely consistent from game to game.  Like most quarterbacks, he's better at home than away.  He has some outstanding efforts and a few poor ones, but by and large he's at around 100 at home and 80ish on the road.

One nice thing about his game is that he still gets better in the fourth quarter.  Although he's ranked 18th in the league among active quarterbacks, in the fourth quarter he suddenly becomes the NFL's fifth best, with a 97.8 rating.  He actually led the league in completion percentage late in the game when the score was close. 

Yes, despite his lousy overall numbers, when the game is on the line he's still one of the best around. 

And Jake is perfect for the offense that the Panthers run. 

Carolina is a running team.  When the game starts, Jake is called on to be a game manager.  He's tasked with handing the ball off to Williams and Stewart, and when the Panthers need a first down he'll throw for it. 

Carolina doesn't use a short passing game to set up the run.  They don't have a West Coast offense.  They're a plain old smash it up the middle and throw it down the field football team.

In that system, or maybe because of it, Jake doesn't have great stats.  But he was fourth in the league in yards per attempt, and first in yards per completion. 

Think his stats would be better with a bunch of short completions mixed in?  Do you think he cares for a minute, as long as he's winning?

Hand it off, hand it off, throw for a first down if necessary, or to keep the defense honest.  That's the Panther's game plan.  And they have a quarterback who understands it and is happy to execute it as it's intended. 

And when the game is on the line and they need the gunslinger to come out, his rating rises from the high 70's to the high 90's.  Somehow he gets a lot more accurate too.

Do you think the Chargers are ready to question his accuracy in the last two minutes?  Dante Rosario sure won't.

How about the Bears, who watched him go four for five in the fourth, including a deep ball to King that put the Panthers in perfect position for the go-ahead score.  Do you think they respect his game?

Green Bay ought to have a lot of respect for Jake's ability to hit the deep ball in the fourth quarter.  Or was that all Steve Smith?

Of course, the Saints are well acquainted with his comebacks.  They suffered another one last year as Jake hit Smitty for a big gain on the Panthers' last drive.  He completed his only other attempt to Moose before Kasay kicked the game winning field goal.

The bottom line is, Jake was deadly in the fourth every time the Panthers were in a close game last year.  The Giants edged the Panthers in overtime, but that might be blamed on the defense instead of the quarterback.

And don't forget, Jake Delhomme is a great leader.  His teammates love him, and when he's called on to carry the team late he delivers.

His two worst games of the season both came on two weeks rest, but that's fodder for another article.  Just in case anyone wants to research Tommy John surgery and recovery times, that is.

This column isn't about that.  It's about why people think the Panthers are doomed with Jake under center.

It's about blaming a quarterback for choosing a terrible time to have a terrible game. 

A game in which the starting running back managed 23 yards after an opening drive that saw him run all over the opponents. 

A game in which the NFL's third best rushing attack ran the ball 15 times and passed 34, including on the vast majority of first downs.

A game in which the defense left one of the NFL's best receivers uncovered in the flat for the entire first half.  In Arizona's seven possessions during the first half, the Cardinals were forced to punt only once.

A game in which the quarterback shouldered the blame for the whole team and staff, and still accepts it.

Face it, Jake's a game manager who has the ability to tighten it down late in the game.  Make him carry the team from the outset and you risk a meltdown.  And if he has one, he'll take the heat for the entire team no matter what else happened.

But pair him with a great running attack and give him a close game or lead in the fourth quarter; well all he'll do is just win a lot of games for you.

So if you consider all that and are still worried about whether he can recover from a five interception game in the playoffs, well you just need to look at NFL history to realize how unfair that really is.

After all, when Brett Favre threw six interceptions in the division playoffs against the Rams in 2002, no one was writing his professional obituary.  They weren't writing it when he threw four against the Vikings in the 2005 postseason either. 

And writing Jake's is also premature.  Good quarterbacks aren't defined by a single game.

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