QB Controversy? Not in Carolina.

It's commonplace for the team's backup QB to be the most popular guy in town. Whenever the starter struggles, fans around the nation clamor for the coach to sub-in the backup QB to spark the team. Sometimes it works, like it did in Carolina in 2003. Panthers coach John Fox benched an ineffective Rodney Peete at half time in the season opener and subbed-in Jake Delhomme. Delhomme never looked back as he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl.

So it's natural to think that when Chris Weinke came in and won the game for the Panthers that he could legitimately come in and be the offensive savior, right?

No. That would be highly illogical, captain.

For one, Delhomme and the Offense aren't exactly struggling. Sure, Delhomme has 8 interceptions, but he also has 10 touchdowns and 4 wins under his belt this season. He's also led this team to the Super Bowl and nearly won it. He's helped Muhsin Muhammad reach the Pro Bowl as a WR last year, and is presently steering Steve Smith to his first appearance in Honolulu as a WR this year. It also doesn't help that Stephen Davis is averaging barely 3 yards per carry (3.1), which is a fact that the coaching staff is ignoring. Delhomme has been pressed to make up for those lost plays, and interceptions have resulted.

Secondly, Delhomme isn't Rodney Peete. When Delhomme usurped Peete as the starting QB, Peete was in his late 30's and on the downswing of his career. Peete was originally signed to be a backup to Weinke in 2002, but was inserted as the starter when the Panthers staff felt uncomfortable having Weinke behind center to start the season. Peete won 7 games in 2002, but his age showed in his play. Peete had a hard time beating the pass rush and couldn't scramble like he had in the past. Did the Panthers turn to Weinke then in 2003? No – they brought in Jake Delhomme to be their starting QB, and despite a decent preseason showing by Weinke, it was Delhomme who got the next shot at leading the Panthers after Peete faltered. Delhomme took the reigns and ran. He engineered win after win, coming from behind in several games to rally the team to victory. His poise and leadership instilled confidence in the team, and they rode it all the way to the Super Bowl; something that Rodney Peete had never done in his career.

However, Chris Weinke has – sort of. Weinke amassed a 32-3 record at a high-profile university, Florida State. He started 3 years for the Seminoles, completing 650 of 1,107 passes for 9,839 yards, 79 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. As a senior, Weinke threw 33 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions as he won the Heisman trophy and led the Seminoles to a National Championship along the way. In fact, Weinke had a passer efficiency rating of 163.1 and averaged 347 yards passing per game as a Senior. Had he been 6 years younger, he'd have been a first round pick. Instead, the Panthers took a 29 year old rookie QB in the 4th round and hoped he'd pick up the NFL game quickly.

Initially, things looked good for Weinke in Carolina. In the 2001 season opener, Weinke started at QB and defeated the Vikings 24-13 in his NFL debut. However, the Panthers defense was awful that year, and Weinke didn't have a running game to support the passing game. They lost 7 games by 4 or less, two of which in overtime. Weinke would finish his rookie season completing 293 of 540 passes (54.3%) for 2,931 yards, 11 TDs and 19 interceptions, compiling a QB rating of 62. As far as rookie QBs go, those statistics weren't that bad, but the one statistic that mattered was the 1-15 record. George Seifert and his staff were cleaned-out almost immediately, and the John Fox era began in Carolina.

Last week, Fox admitted that they were struggling with the fact to select either Peppers or Harrington in the 2002 NFL draft. Why? If Weinke was "the QB", why were they even considering Harrington? Ultimately the Panthers decided on Peppers, but they did select QB Randy Fasani in the 4th round, and gave him ample opportunity to usurp Weinke in the preseason and the regular season. Clearly, Weinke wasn't Fox and Henning's guy and never has been.

After years on the bench, has Weinke gotten better or worse? He's not seen any regular season live game action since 2002, where he appeared in 6 games and threw 3 interceptions and no touchdowns. The drive on Sunday was impressive, except that he targeted WR Ricky Proehl on every pass attempt. That didn't do a lot for the common perception that Weinke tends to lock on to receivers and telegraph his passes. However, if you watch the tape, you see Weinke going through the progression and finding the favorable matchup advantaged Proehl on every play. Credit Weinke for noting that, and for taking that advantage despite how it might look on paper.

Clearly, the years on the bench have credited Weinke mentally. He's more prepared and he's got a greater knowledge of the NFL game, much like the progress that Delhomme made as he toiled on the end of New Orleans' bench for several seasons. It wasn't till Delhomme was a free agent and came to Carolina that he finally got a real chance, and ironically, it probably won't be until Weinke goes elsewhere that he finally gets a chance to truly compete for a starting job. Delhomme is paid starting money, and teams don't like to waste money or be proven incompetent for spending money unwisely – especially the Carolina Panthers who have been a culprit more than a few times in the past.

Delhomme is entrenched as the starter in Carolina. He still gives the team the best chance to win. If healthy, he will be the Panthers QB for the foreseeable future. Weinke will be a free agent at the end of the season. He could be bitter for not getting more of a chance in Carolina, but he hasn't publicly made scene or complained. He's been a true professional through this situation, and that will be extremely attractive for some other team that will probably pay him some big money during the offseason. They've seen his preseason play, and coming in to win the game against Detroit adds to his resume. He'll get a shot somewhere else.

Just not in Carolina.

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