Run-first, run-last Panthers can't find balance
With: FBN--Panthers-Davis Injured The past two weeks have proved that the Carolina Panthers can stay competitive with the NFL's best teams when get their running game going. But if they need to pass, one of two things happen: The Panthers run the ball anyway, or throw without success. A day after Carolina let a 17-3 lead slip away in a road loss to unbeaten New Orleans, coach John Fox on Monday defended a game plan he's used the last two weeks. It involves seemingly running on almost every down, a way to limit Jake Delhomme's mistakes. "That defense had caused a lot of turnovers, particularly in the passing game," Fox said of the Saints. "That was one of the reasons why we played the way we did. We didn't throw an interception." Delhomme, who Fox contemplating benching after throwing 13 interceptions in six games, went a second straight game without a pick. But unlike a week earlier when the Panthers beat NFC West-leading Arizona without completing a pass in the second half, the Panthers couldn't sustain their run-first and run-last style against the Saints. After building a 17-6 halftime lead by throwing five passes and running 22 times, the Panthers' ground game stalled. Carolina managed 52 yards on 17 carries in the second half, and Delhomme and the passing game couldn't make up the difference in a 30-20 loss that left the Panthers (3-5) with one more loss than all of 2008. Consider the Panthers ran the ball on third-and-21, third-and-12, third-and-12 again and third-and-6 in the first half. In the second half, the Panthers had to throw, and couldn't convert. Delhomme had two passes of longer than 20 yards in the game, including a 46-yarder to Steve Smith after the game was decided. Dwayne Jarrett, filling in for Muhsin Muhammad (knee) failed to come up with a well-thrown deep early in the fourth quarter when it was 20-20. "We need to get more dangerous on offense," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "It's kind of the same old song. We need to do better in the passing game." Delhomme's numbers were helped from late yardage after the game was decided. He finished 17 of 30 for 201 yards and no touchdowns in the first time this season the Saints failed to record an interception. "I think we had a good formula and a good plan. At the end of the day we had three fumbles we lost, one in the passing game and two in the run game," Fox said. "I thought that was probably the difference in a close game. It really didn't have a whole lot to do with the passing game." DeAngelo Williams rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns, but fumbled at the Carolina 1 to give the Saints a gift clinching touchdown for a 30-20 lead. Jonathan Stewart lost a fumble, and Delhomme coughed it up when he was sacked on fourth down with Carolina trailing 23-20 earlier in the fourth quarter. Fox insisted Monday that he's not hesitant in letting Delhomme throw the ball, but acknowledged the Panthers need to become more balanced. "I'm confident," Fox said, "that we can get better."