QB Jake Delhomme spent a good portion of his day on his back as the Eagles brought the pressure on Sunday. (Photo by Sir John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – Carolina Panthers fans have lived this nightmare before, which explains why most of the 73,599 in attendance Sunday at Bank of America Stadium didn’t bother returning for the second half.
Can’t blame ‘em.
In a game eerily familiar to their NFC Divisional playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals eight months ago, the Panthers scored on an impressive opening drive only to fall apart following five turnovers by Jake Delhomme and got blown out 38-10 by the Philadelphia Eagles in the regular season opener.
Trailing 7-3, the Eagles scored three touchdowns – one each on offense, defense and special teams -- in a span of 4:57 early in the second quarter and later stretched that lead to 31-10 at halftime.
The Panthers tied a franchise-record with seven turnovers and Delhomme was benched for poor performance for the first time since taking over as Carolina’s starting quarterback in Week 2 of the 2003 season.
With the Arizona loss still fresh in their minds, the home crowd didn’t wait too long to begin expressing their dissatisfaction with Delhomme. The booing began with 9:49 left in the second quarter after his third turnover of the game and continued every time he took the field for the start of an offensive series until he was benched with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
By then the Panthers were down by 28 points.
Josh McCown replaced Delhomme to a rousing ovation, but suffered a knee and foot sprain late in the third quarter, forcing the Panthers to go with emergency quarterback Matt Moore.
Delhomme said he wasn’t surprised he got benched.
“I wasn’t getting anything going for us,” said Delhomme, who was 7 of 17 for 73 yards with four interceptions and one fumble that was returned for a touchdown. “It was frustrating when we had an absolutely great first drive. Things just went downhill from there.”
After the game, coach John Fox said Delhomme would start next week at Atlanta, saying that Carolina’s lack of protection contributed to the veteran’s struggles.
In all, Carolina’s quarterbacks were sacked five times and pressured twice as many as that. Carolina finished with 86 total yards passing and the three quarterbacks combined for a rating of 13.7.
When asked for a reason for Delhomme’s struggles, wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad replied, “I don’t know if guys are getting a read on where he’s going with the football. I don’t know if he’s looking at the receivers he’s throwing to or whatnot. But like I said, there’s no crystal ball we can rub to come up with an answer for the turnovers we had today. We need to go back and watch film and get better.”
They will have to get a lot better in preparation for next week’s game at Atlanta.
While some might argue otherwise, Delhomme said his confidence wasn’t shaken after last year’s playoff loss to Arizona in which he turned the ball over six times in a 33-13 defeat.
“People have the right to ask and the way I played today it might have looked that way,” Delhomme said. “There is not something inside of me saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t make a mistake on this play.’ That’s not it at all. I’ll be honest with you; if I was worried about making a mistake I’m going to check the ball down every play. It’s that simple. You drop back and check the ball down and hope that gets a first down.”
After DeAngelo Williams scored on a nifty 11-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-minute, 70-yard drive and give Carolina a 7-0 lead, the Panthers hit a wall. They'd managed just 99 yards after that first drive. The troubles started on the second series as Delhomme threw behind Steve Smith and was intercepted by Sheldon Brown. The Eagles would have to settle for a field goal, but things would get worse.
On the very next play, blitzing defensive end Trent Cole raced through a hole in the line and sacked Delhomme at the Carolina 25, jarring the ball loose. Defensive end Victor Abiamiri picked up the loose ball at the 2-yard line and walked into the end zone for the touchdown.
The Eagles would rattle off 31 straight points, 28 of those in the second quarter as DeSean Jackson returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown and Donovan McNabb found Brent Celek for a 9-yard touchdown pass after another Delhomme interception. McNabb would leave the game with a broken rib in the third quarter, but by then the outcome was well in hand.
Carolina’s defense, which had been a concern coming into the game, never had a chance.
The Eagles scored three offensive touchdowns, two of those which began inside the Panthers 10-yard line. Philadelphia did have a 74-yard touchdown drive before the end of the first half which pretty much put the game out of reach at 31-7 with 3:16 left.
If there was any excitement entering this season – and it appeared there wasn’t as much as in past years given how bad the team looked in the preseason – it’s all been wiped clean following Sunday’s performance.
But with tough games coming up against Atlanta and Dallas before the bye week, the Panthers can’t afford to dwell too long on this one.
“It’s very, very disappointing,” said Delhomme. “I can relate to the 2006 season when we opened up with Atlanta. They kind of got after us a bit. It’s very disappointing, but nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”