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Little-noticed Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme shines in the playoffs

Big-game quarterbacks tend to become big-name quarterbacks.

There's Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw from the past.

There's Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger among the present.

And then there's Jake Delhomme.

The Carolina quarterback certainly doesn't have the lofty reputation of the others. Much less the glamorous lifestyle, the highlight-reel resume, the dominating physical tools or even the eye-popping stats.

No, all he has is the bottom line results: 18 fourth-quarter/overtime winning drives in his five full seasons (including 12 in the final two minutes), and an impressive 5-2 record in playoff games and a 95 postseason quarterback rating (better than any of the other quarterbacks who played in January).

Delhomme insists his knack for coming through when it matters most is nothing special, and that the key is doing nothing different.

"I don't know, I've been on a good football team. That's what I believe," Delhomme said. "I just, I'm not trying to be anyone else.

"Certainly, the playoffs, they're on a bigger stage, there'll be more media following and everything. Our lives we lead coming into work every day and going home, it's the same as the regular season. … That's how I always looked at it. Don't make it bigger than what it is. It's still another game. You still have to do what you did during the season because obviously you did some decent things, and carry them over."

The Panthers are just happy to have him in the game. They saw what life was like without him last season, when he blew out his right elbow in the third game and needed Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss the rest of what became a brutal 7-9 season.

"I've said this many times: I think when Jake's been in the game, whether it's playoffs or regular season, we've had better opportunities," Carolina coach John Fox said. "And I think that record speaks for itself. Unfortunately, we went for a stretch there where we didn't have him. … I think it's fairly obvious that I'm happy he's in there, whether it's regular season or playoffs."

The Panthers tied Delhomme's return this season to a reconstruction of their offense, pairing rookie Jonathan Stewart with DeAngelo Williams in the backfield to re-establish the running game Fox favors, and re-signed receiver Muhsin Muhammad to provide another option to Steve Smith when they do want to throw it.

The results were more than obvious, as the Panthers finished with 414 points, second most in franchise history, including 28 or more in each of their last seven games. Plus, they had a team-record six games of 400 or more yards of offense. Though ranked 10th in the NFL in total yards (349.7 per game), they were seventh in points (25.9) and third in rushing (152.3).

Delhomme's overall stats were relatively pedestrian — 246-of-414 passes for 3,288 yards, 15 TDs, 11 interceptions, an 84.7 QB rating — but, as usual, he came through when they needed him, engineering four winning drives.

"We started the season with a two-minute drive that resulted in a win over San Diego, and Jake threw the winning touchdown," Muhammad told the Charlotte Observer. "We ended the season with a winning drive (against New Orleans) where we kicked a field goal, and Jake orchestrated that same drive.

"If you want to look at the bottom-line statistics as far as being a leader and things that are intangible, I think Jake does a great job."

The Panthers finished 12-4 (including 8-0 at home) to win the NFC South and the NFC's No. 2 seed, and Saturday night — on Delhomme's 34th birthday — they'll host the Cardinals for the chance to play for the NFC championship for the third time in six seasons.

"You've seen a difference between last year and this year, having him and not having him," left tackle Jordan Gross told the Associated Press. "He's definitely our leader and the whole team revolves around him."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Little-noticed Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme shines in the playoffs 01/06/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 7:02pm]
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