'Inspired Defense' Stifles Delhomme

By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006

Quarterback Jake Delhomme guided the Carolina Panthers to near-victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII almost three years ago, then took the team to the NFC championship game last year. Those accomplishments alone would be enough to make Delhomme one of the cornerstones of the relatively young franchise.

Yesterday he took another step toward asserting his place in team history at FedEx Field, passing Steve Beuerlein to take the franchise records for passing yards and completions. Delhomme, though, wasn't in the mood to talk about individual accomplishments, especially after he struggled for most of a 17-13 loss to the Washington Redskins.

"Even if we would've won, and I think some of these guys know me a little bit, it wouldn't mean anything either," said Delhomme, who badly missed his target on his final throw, which was intercepted by Redskins safety Sean Taylor. "I'm about win-loss [record]."

Trailing by four points after Redskins tight end Chris Cooley's 66-yard touchdown catch, Carolina gained possession at its 29-yard line with 1 minute 40 seconds left. The Panthers still had a timeout and a bit of life. Delhomme started the drive with a pair of pass completions that put the Panthers on the Redskins 41. Then, he reared back and fired a deep pass in the general direction of his favorite target, Steve Smith, who was fighting double coverage.

Last week at St. Louis, Delhomme and Smith connected for a 62-yard touchdown on the same play.

But this time the ball fluttered toward the middle of the field, more than 15 yards away from Smith, where Taylor and nobody else had a chance to catch it.

"I got hit and obviously it didn't go where I thought it was going to go," Delhomme said. "I have a . . . feeling that's why the ball looked like a kickoff."

For the second-straight week, the Panthers offense struggled, amassing just 264 yards. Rookie running back DeAngelo Williams, playing in place of injured back DeShaun Foster, was held to 63 yards on 17 carries, an average of just 3.7 yards. Carolina's longest play from scrimmage came on Kris Mangum's 19-yard reception and the Redskins' defense blanketed Smith, holding him to five catches for 34 yards.

But Delhomme had the most difficulty, finishing with two interceptions.

"We had a bunch of three-and-outs," said Delhomme, who completed 23 of 38 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. "We came close a couple times, but it was not enough."

For the third game this season and the second time within a month, he had a passer rating below 60 (57.8). His 168 passing yards is his second lowest passing yardage total in 11 games. Only a 149-yard passing performance against Dallas was worse.

"I think when you're not executing, certainly, things do feel like they're a little off," Delhomme said.

Right away, Delhomme looked as if he would have problems. On his team's second offensive snap, he tried to force a pass down the middle to Smith. Instead, he missed his target badly and Redskins safety Vernon Fox picked the ball off. Delhomme absorbed a big hit as he threw, a common occurrence throughout the game.

"They played inspired defense," Carolina Coach John Fox said. "We weren't really able to get a whole lot going with the run or the pass game."

The Redskins' defense forced Carolina to go three and out with nine of its 14 possessions, including all three of the Panthers' third-quarter possessions. And Delhomme was erratic during that span.

When the Panthers took over at their 26 to start the fourth quarter, Carolina trailed 10-6.

Then, Delhomme briefly caught a spark, leading his team's longest drive of the day. Carolina drove 74 yards, capped by Smith's eight-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone, to pull ahead 13-10 with 7:55 left in the game.

But that was all the face of the franchise could muster.

"We made a nice drive in the fourth. We got the lead, tried to answer," Delhomme said. "But we just couldn't answer back."

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