Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme is coming off season ending “Tommy John” surgery on his right elbow this year, and so far so-so? The Panthers are 4-2 and tied for first in the NFC South which has surprisingly, become a very competitive division. With three teams tied at 4-2 and the visiting New Orleans Saints only one game back, this Sundays game at Bank of America Stadium is huge with the Panthers coming off a division road loss to Tampa Bay.
So far this year, Delhomme has shown no issues with the right elbow. He is completing passes at a 58.6% clip and has five touchdowns to five interceptions. The numbers aren’t gaudy, but they are worlds ahead of where the Panthers were a year ago with David Carr and Vinny Testeverde subbing for the injured quarterback.
Looking deeper into the numbers, Delhomme has had three really good games, and three OK games. In victories against San Diego, Atlanta, and Kansas City, Jake threw for over 230 yards each game, threw all five of his touchdowns and only one interception. In games against Chicago, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay, Chicago being the only win for the Panthers, Delhomme’s numbers weren’t nearly as good, including a three interception performance against the Buccaneers. I have to give Jake a little credit on two of the Tampa Bay interceptions as they were not interception balls, but after tips off receivers’ hands, they turned into interceptions. But back to the numbers: The commonality in the three sub par performances was that they came against teams that are in the top 10 in the NFL at stopping the run. The Panthers have to be able to establish the run to let Delhomme take advantage of the play action pass which opens up play makers like Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad. So far, the only issue that Delhomme does seem to have is he will, at times, lock in and force the ball to Smith, however this seems to be less prevalent this year with the return of Muhammad.
Looking beyond the numbers, it is clear that Jake Delhomme is the leader that this team needs. This has been apparent all season long and illustrated twice this year. First, in the opener at San Diego, Delhomme led yet another fourth quarter comeback that culminated with his throw to Dante Rosario on the final play of the game. Second, in the home opener against Chicago, after a late hit by Lance Briggs, Delhomme popped up off the field and went bonkers. Although this wasn’t something that showed up in the box score, following that incident, the Panther offensive line took over that game and the Panthers pulled out another come from behind victory.
So, what is in store for Jake and the Panthers this Sunday against the Saints? It really hinges on the offensive line and the running game. The Saints are fourteenth in the league against the run and the Panthers will certainly try to run the ball to keep the explosive Saints offense on the sideline. This is an important game for both teams and one of those games where Jake Delhomme has a tendency to play big.