NFL: Delhomme eager to bounce back

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 15, 2008

By Mike Cranston
Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó The needling directed at Jake Delhomme by his teammates has been relentless.
On Carolina’s plane ride home from Oakland after Delhomme completed 7 of 27 passes for 72 yards and four interceptions, backup quarterback Josh McCown acted as if he was awarding Delhomme with the Raiders’ defensive game ball. That came between snide remarks from the offensive line and sarcastic comparisons to Johnny Unitas.
Delhomme, who dishes out plenty of jabs himself, was more than willing to join in.
“I don’t know why I didn’t win AFC defensive player of the week this week,” he said. “It seemed like I could have won that.”
The Panthers (7-2) were able to laugh about it because they overcame Delhomme’s 12.3 passer rating to beat the woeful Raiders 17-6 for their third straight win to stay atop the NFC South.
But while Delhomme was willing to be the target of jokes, his former teammate knows the ugly performance is eating at Delhomme, who had been off to an impressive start following reconstructive elbow surgery last year.
“I would hate to be Detroit’s defense, for the simple fact that Jake is a competitor,” said former Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker, who retired in the spring. “He’s a guy that wants perfection, and he’s going to come back stronger than ever against Detroit.”
That would be bad news for the hapless Lions (0-9), who enter Bank of America Stadium Sunday as the NFL’s only winless team. Detroit is saddled with an injury-riddled, ineffective defense, uncertainty at quarterback and a closing scheduled that’s tied for the most difficult in the league.
“It’s tough,” said Lions coach Rod Marinelli, whose team lost 38-14 last week to Jacksonville to end a streak of close defeats. “Nobody likes to have our record right now, but they come out, they work extremely hard, they meet, they practice and they do the things that you need to do to prepare to win a game. We just have to keep staying at it and eventually this thing will turn for us.”
Marinelli hopes that happens with Daunte Culpepper, who will start his second straight game at quarterback since ending his brief retirement. Culpepper will also play his first regular-season game at Carolina since tearing three knee ligaments while with Minnesota in 2005, an injury that led to a major detour in his career.
“Obviously it’s in my mind,” said Culpepper, who played a preseason game with Miami in Charlotte a year after the injury. “I look at it like this: I am going there to play and do what I love to do.”
With Dan Orlovsky out with a broken hand, Culpepper made his debut against the Jaguars five days after he signed with the team. He completed only 5 of 10 passes for 104 yards and one interception. He was later replaced by Drew Stanton, but Marinelli will go with Culpepper and hope he can connect often with receiver Calvin Johnson against a Carolina defense that bailed out Delhomme last week.
Behind three sacks from defensive end Julius Peppers and 14 tackles from middle linebacker Jon Beason, the Panthers held an opponent without a touchdown for the third time this season.
With center Dominic Raiola (thumb) sidelined, it means a big challenge for Detroit’s offensive line. Rookie right tackle Gosder Cherilus, back in the starting lineup, may face the roving Peppers some on Sunday.
“He’s really chasing the football,” Marinelli said of Peppers. “It’s hard to get a hat on him in the run game. Boy, he will make you miss. He is playing at an extremely high level.”
Detroit is even more banged-up on defense. All four starting linemen, linebacker Ernie Sims and safety Dwight Smith have missed practice time. Delhomme hopes to exploit that 31st-ranked unit and help erase his own demons after a performance so bad, Steve Smith was made virtually invisible with only one catch for 9 yards.
“It seemed like every decision I made was wrong,” Delhomme said.
That Carolina still won was a tribute to the defense and DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for a career-high 140 yards and a touchdown. But it was also no real surprise as Carolina continues it turnaround season. A win Sunday ó and the Panthers are a two-touchdown favorite ó would surpass last season’s win total and make them 6-0 at home before the schedule turns tough.
Delhomme has been impressive at home with eight touchdown passes, one interception and a passer rating of no lower than 110 in his last four games. They’re the kind of stats the Panthers were getting used to, and why players felt free to pile on the jokes after he was so bad against the Raiders.
“You want to get back out there and play as quickly as possible,” Delhomme said. “Success throwing the other day was few and far between. But you want to get back out there and play ball and get a better taste in your mouth.”