Although the spotlight was on Eli Manning, Jake Delhomme shone the brightest.

Manning had a decent debut as a starter, but Delhomme overshadowed the No. 1 pick in the draft by throwing for a touchdown and running for another in the Carolina Panthers' 27-20 preseason victory last night over the visiting New York Giants.

The game was the first test for Manning, the $45 million quarterback competing with two-time MVP Kurt Warner for New York's starting job.

After backing up Warner in last week's preseason victory over Kansas City, Manning got the start against the NFC champions. He looked every bit the carbon copy of his brother, Peyton, pointing out the defense and calling audibles at the line early.

And his passes were smooth and on the mark. He went 9 for 15 for 117 yards.

But as the first half went on, the Panthers figured him out.

Brentson Buckner pushed through the line for a nasty takedown of Manning in the second quarter -- Buckner was flagged for encroachment -- and Mark Fields sacked him three plays later to bring his night to an end.

There were a few bobbles: On his second series, Manning tried to change the play from the shotgun position but ran out of time and earned a delay of game penalty.

But Manning also proved to be elusive, avoiding a safety by dumping the ball off just as Julius Peppers closed in on him in the end zone.

"Eli did all right," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. "He did okay. We don't have any problems with that."

* STEELERS: All indications are Pittsburgh right guard Kendall Simmons will miss the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Simmons was injured in practice on Wednesday. An MRI exam yesterday morning revealed a tear.

"All these things are part of the game," Coach Bill Cowher said. "We're not the only ones going through it. Everyone's going through it, and the one thing you don't want to do is alter how you approach the game."

Linebacker Kendrell Bell, who has been bothered by a nagging shoulder injury, will sit out the game against the Texans. The 2001 defensive rookie of the year missed much of the 2002 season because of injuries.

He'll be joined on the bench by cornerback Terry Fair (hamstring), linebacker Clark Haggans (broken fingers), and defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy (calf).

Simmons's agent, Eric Metz, said he will get a second opinion next week in Birmingham from James Andrews, a noted knee specialist.

"He's holding out hope that there's some way he can brace it up or do something along those lines to get out there and play, but it looks like there's a very slim chance of that," Metz said.

* CHARGERS: Doug Flutie was back where he's most comfortable: on the football field. The 41-year-old quarterback participated in his first full practice since having arthroscopic surgery Aug. 5 on his left knee.

"It was fun," said Flutie, San Diego's quarterback with rookie Philip Rivers unsigned. "It was nice to get back out there and feel like I belong. I was on the outside looking in for about 21/2 weeks."