If the Carolina Panthers offense was ever going to pick an afternoon to play their worst football, they sure picked the right one. The Panthers overcame arguably the worst game in quarterback Jake Delhomme’s career for an ugly 17-6 win over the lowly Oakland Raiders Sunday, improving to 7-2 on the season.
The game looked early on as though it would be a blowout. Backup linebacker Adam Seward recovered a Johnnie Lee Higgins fumble on the opening kickoff of the game, giving the Panthers the ball at the Oakland 16 yard line.
After an unsuccessful DeAngelo Williams rush, Delhomme went 2-for-3 for 16 yards and a touchdown to Muhsin Muhammad to give Carolina the early 7-0 lead.
Once the Raiders got an actual possession, it looked as though they may have a shot at hanging tough with the Panthers. Running back Justin Fargas rushed for 26 yards on four carries before Julius Peppers recorded the first of his three sacks on the day to force Andrew Walter and the Raiders offense off the field; a sign of things to come.
Walter, filling in for the injured JaMarcus Russell, could not produce numbers any more effective than Russell’s, completing only 14 of 32 passes for 143 yards and two interceptions for a 31.1 quarterback rating.
The tumult of Walter’s day paled in comparison, however, to that of Delhomme’s. Delhomme completed just seven passes out of 27 attempts for a mere 72 yards. To make matters worse, he threw four interceptions, did not throw another touchdown after the short opening drive, and ended the day with an abysmal 12.3 quarterback rating.
His 26-percent completion rating was the lowest in any of his 74 NFL starts, and it was only the third time in his career he had thrown four interceptions. In the victory, Delhomme became only the second quarterback since the merger in 1970 to throw four interceptions and complete fewer than 30 percent of his passes in a winning effort.
Only Muhammad caught more than one pass for the Panthers, with D.J. Hackett, Jeff King, Steve Smith, and Williams all raking in one catch a piece. Smith was shut down for most of the afternoon by Raiders corner Nnamdi Asomugha, widely regarded as one of the best man-to-man cover corners in the NFL.
The silver lining in the Panthers offense on Sunday was Williams, who ran for 140 yards and a 69-yard touchdown on 19 carries. With rookie Jonathan Stewart’s production having seen an almost halt due to a heel injury, Williams has stepped up the last two weeks for the Panthers.
The long touchdown run put the only other Panthers touchdown of the day on the board just a few minutes before halftime and seemed to be the spark the offense needed to get off the ropes.
The Panthers got the ball only once more before the break and moved the ball relatively well before they ran out of clock and had to settle for a long field goal attempt. John Kasay’s 54-yard attempt went wide and snapped his streak of 21 consecutive field goals made. It was Kasay’s first miss of the season.
Of the Panthers 17 offensive possessions, nine ended in Jason Baker punts, only three drives lasted longer than five plays, and the longest drive was Williams’ 69-yard scamper on the first play. It is tough to recall a day where the Panthers were so out of sync on offense.
In the Panthers last game against the Cardinals before the bye, it was the offense that surged to bail the defense out of trouble time after time. This week, the defense paid its counterparts back for that effort, keeping Oakland out of the end zone for their second straight game.
Peppers was back to his Pro Bowl form, notching seven solo tackles, two forced fumbles, and a pass deflection to go along with his three sacks. Not noted on any stat sheet are the countless times that the Raiders had to double team Peppers, or the number of times Walter was frustrated and hurried, or how many of those seven tackles were made on the opposite side of the field from where Peppers lined up.
It is performances like that that show why Peppers is the most valuable defensive end in the league. If he continues to perform at the top of his game as he has in the last few outings, the Panthers will have to offer him a blockbuster contract to keep him under Carolina blue skies.
Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson each tallied a sack, giving the Panthers a total of five on the day. Johnson’s four-and-a-half sacks are second on the team only to Peppers’ seven, and the young defensive end has made huge strides this year towards solidifying his place on the Panthers roster.
In only his second year out of Georgia, Johnson’s improvement is impressive to say the least. He was active for only three of the team’s 16 games last year.
Jon Beason led the Panthers in tackles with 15; 11 of them solo. Beason has 79 total tackles on the season and will be looking to match and improve upon his 140 tackle performance in his rookie season.
Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall both recorded interceptions for the Carolina defense, with Marshall’s coming in the end zone to thwart a promising Oakland drive after Delhomme’s first pick.
The Panthers also played well on special teams, especially kick returner Mark Jones. Jones returned seven punts for 123 yards and nearly broke one for a touchdown before being forced out of bounds after 55 yards by Oakland punter Shane Lechler. That would set up the Kasay field goal that ultimately put the game out of reach for Oakland. His lone kickoff return was good for 59 yards.
The Raiders did not help themselves any Sunday, racking up 83 yards on 10 penalties. To go along with the five sacks, Oakland also fumbled the ball five times, although they lost only one of them.
Fargas led the Raiders on the ground with 89 yards on 22 carries while Michael Bush was the team’s leading receiver with five catches for 43 yards. Rashad Baker snagged two of Delhomme’s four interceptions while Asomugha and Sam Williams each had one.
The Raiders had the ball for a commanding 37:02, but were only able to yield two Sebastian Janikowski field goals to show for it. Janikowski missed a 58-yard attempt with nine seconds left in the game that would have allowed the Raiders to try for a miracle onside kick and Hail Mary combination to potentially tie the game.
To put a cap on the lackluster performance that both teams put on Sunday, the two teams combined to go 5-for-30 on third down, commit seven turnovers, punt 20 times, were whistled for 14 penalties and had a combined average of less than five yards per passing play.
The Panthers' 22:58 time of possession was their lowest this season.
The Panthers will have the opportunity to work out some of the kinks in their offense during next week’s game, as they host the win-less Detroit Lions. Lucky for Carolina they don’t have to travel to a hostile environment or face a division rival a week after their pitiful effort in Oakland.
The Raiders will try to break their streak of nine consecutive quarters without a touchdown and turn the season around under interim head coach Tom Cable when they head to Miami next Sunday.