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For Panthers, Fox, a big gamble placed on Delhomme

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)

You can't miss the merchandise trailer in the parking lot on the walk from Bank of America Stadium to Carolina's practice fields. It features a picture of Jake Delhomme getting ready to unload a pass. Underneath him proclaims the Panthers as 2003 NFC champions. It only seems like longer than six seasons ago. Battered by a barrage of interceptions and ugly losses, Delhomme resembles anything but a Super Bowl quarterback these days. But coach John Fox, perhaps holding onto old, fond memories or because he has no better option, is gambling the beleaguered 34-year-old can regain his form despite a stunning 21 turnovers in seven games. Delhomme's future, Fox's job and the Panthers' fortunes all depend on it. In Carolina, it's became Jake or Bust. "This is the same quarterback that a year ago led us to a 12-4 record and a couple years ago an NFC championship and a Super Bowl," running back DeAngelo Williams said. "Unfortunately, in this business you're only as good as your last game and we didn't play too well our last game. But my confidence has always been in Jake and will continue to stay in Jake." Fox has the same attitude. After toying with the idea of benching Delhomme after he threw three more interceptions in Sunday's 20-9 loss to Buffalo, Fox decided to stick with Delhomme ahead of the inexperienced Matt Moore and A.J. Feeley, the journeyman who's struggling to learn the offense. The Panthers (2-4) have already matched last year's loss total, have watched Delhomme throw an NFL-high 13 interceptions, and face road games at Arizona (4-2) and New Orleans (6-0) the next two weeks. Whether it's shrewd, stubborn or simply a bad move, Fox and the Panthers are either going to implode or resurrect their season with Delhomme under center. "I feel good about it," Fox said. Judging by talk show callers and message board posters, the feeling isn't mutual. Delhomme claims he's a "hermit" during the season and shuts out the criticism. What's bothering Delhomme is that with a 56.5 passer rating and Carolina's league-worst minus-14 turnover margin, he's let down his teammates. "I haven't played well enough for them. That means more than anything else," Delhomme said. "I've always felt that I've kind of been one that they can lean on in the tough situations and to fight through and I haven't done that enough this year. That's something that's bothersome." Delhomme's downward spiral started in January, where he turned in one of the worst performances by a quarterback in playoff history with five interceptions and lost a fumble in an upset loss to Arizona. He then got a contract extension - only to commit five more turnovers in Week 1 this year. Most teammates have rallied behind him, either because they truly believe he can again be the QB that's led Carolina to numerous comeback wins or they realize his confidence is fragile. Delhomme said he was "almost numb" after the Buffalo loss and Fox said Monday they needed to get confidence back in the passing game. "The team collectively has to be better around him. Not all the interceptions are his fault," tight end Jeff King said. "We all collectively have to pick up our game as does he." Receiver Steve Smith, held without a touchdown this season, was more guarded after Fox's decision to keep the status quo. "Jake is the guy," Smith said. "It's not my call." It's unclear if Delhomme will have a shorter leash Sunday against the Cardinals. The team is trying to make things simpler for him after new quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer focused on Delhomme's unorthodox mechanics in the preseason. Delhomme's best moments this season have come when he's had to improvise in the 2-minute offense. Now Delhomme will get yet another chance to show he hasn't completely lost it against the Cardinals, the team in which the horrible stretch began. "It'll be full circle if we go out and play well," Delhomme said. "It'd be a nice thing."
Tagged: Panthers

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