NFL: Delhomme keeping his confidence up

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 7, 2006

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE — Jake Delhomme knows the hot topic among Carolina fans is whether or not he should be benched.

But as he and the Panthers struggle through a disappointing season, Delhomme claims it’s never popped into his head during a game that he’d be replaced.

“No, and honestly, if that’s ever a thought in my mind when I’m on the field, then personally as a player I need to walk off,” Delhomme said Wednesday. “I’m not doing my team justice if that goes through my mind.”

It may be astonishing to some that a quarterback who has led a team to the Super Bowl and the NFC championship game in his four previous seasons as a starter would be under so much criticism. But Delhomme and the Panthers have underperformed this year. Despite still having All-Pro receiver Steve Smith and the offseason signing of Keyshawn Johnson, the Panthers rank 27th in the NFL in scoring at 17.2 points per game.

Last year the Panthers averaged more than 24 points a game and Delhomme threw 24 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and had a passer rating of 88.1 to make his first Pro Bowl. This season, Delhomme has 12 TD passes, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 78.7, 18th in the league.

“I’m sure there is a ton of criticism out there. I’m sure there is. But I’ve got other things to worry about,” Delhomme said. “I’ve got to worry about playing better, about doing what is better for my team, about being on the same page with guys. That is more important to me than what people might be saying. Because hey, this is a what have you done for me lately job, and I understand that.”

Coach John Fox has said that, barring injury, Delhomme will remain the starter ahead of Chris Weinke. But Delhomme needs to improve for the Panthers (6-5) to get out of their funk.

Delhomme has struggled with his accuracy. Never a textbook passer, Delhomme has always found a way to get the ball to Smith. But he’s consistently thrown too high for receivers this season, and he’s had costly fourth-quarter interceptions in losses to Cincinnati and Washington.

“As I’m sitting here, do I want to say, ‘God I wish I could have that last play back with Steve?’ Yeah, I do right now,” Delhomme said of his late interception against the Redskins. “But I can’t question that. If the shot is there, I have to take it. I can’t be questioning and saying , ‘Don’t do this and don’t do that.’ If it’s there I have to play with a free mind.”

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