FIRST AND TENPanthers quarterback Jake Delhomme must've been reading internet bulletin board fodder following Carolina's Chicago Bears debacle. Jake came out tentative and conservative Sunday after being soundly criticized all week for forcing throws, not checking down to his backs and tight ends and not throwing the ball away when he should have.
It was strange to witness, but the results are hard to nit-pick: 20 completions out of 27 attempts, 191 yards, 1 TD and zero interceptions for a quarterback rating of 105.6.
Delhomme's personality will push the gunslinger aspect back into his game in future contests - he's just too much of a free spirit - but it was nice to see Jake deliberately slow down, step into his throws and not allow the Bills defensive line time to take free shots.
Peyton Manning's growth as the NFL's premier quarterback began with his mastery of knowing when and how to throw the ball away. It took years of getting picked off for Manning to learn this lesson, but it is the difference between Manning the stats generator and Manning the future Hall Of Famer.
If it takes a Pop Warner-like game plan in chilly Buffalo for Delhomme to learn this lesson, too…well, then, so be it.
A Jake Delhomme somewhere between Brett Favre and Tom Brady is what's needed to return the Panthers to the Super Bowl.
A FEW OBSERVATIONS FROM SUNDAY'S CONTEST* John Kasay has lost rhythm in his left-footed kicks and, as a result, is pulling them right. Same thing happens to the three-wood in my golf bag, but the big difference is that I think Kasay will fix his swing whereas mine is beyond hope of repair. "Will fix" and "has fixed" are two different things, however, and that fact will keep John Fox up nights.
* Safety Marlon McCree led the Panthers with 6 tackles, underlining Buffalo's plan to attack the defensive line between the tackles and the soft zone over the linebackers and beneath the safeties.
* Mike Trgovac should line up Al Wallace at tackle more often.
* I think Karl Hankton has kick returner radar somewhere in his helmet.
* London Fletcher, leading the Bills with 11 tackles and 6 assists, does what Mark Fields would be doing for the Panthers this season if he were healthy. Fletcher plays middle linebacker for Buffalo due to an injury to others but would be strong side linebacker in Carolina's scheme.
* The danger in a run-dominated offense is that the scoring is almost always low. The Panthers consumed over eleven minutes of game time more than Buffalo yet required a fourth quarter touchdown to seal the win. A low-scoring game increases the impact of a turnover and increases the responsibility of the defense to keep opponents out of the end zone. The margin for error narrows the lower the score. We'll take the win as-is, but more balance is needed.
* Where would the Panthers be without Ricky Proehl? The "old man" came through again with a clutch 24-yard pass on third-and-eight in the deciding fourth quarter touchdown drive. Michael Gaines' TD catch, by the way, came on the same route Proehl ran to save the Panthers in Phoenix.
* Teams are doubling Steve Smith and will continue to do so until Colbert makes them pay. And Keary won't do that until he beats someone deep.
* Rod Gardner was inactive to allow Carolina to go heavy with Mike Seidman, Gaines and "Giterdun" Mangum.
* As long as DeShaun Foster continues to hold on to the football, he will continue to get the bulk of the carries.
* If Stephen Davis wanted to look for a reason why he sat out all of the second half against the Bills, he might want to review film of his complete inability to catch a pass. The reverse of which is why Foster is Carolina's second leading receiver.
* I was impressed how Buffalo used the no-huddle offense. Worked about as well as it did for Green Bay.
* There will be plays we point to after the season is over that are considered key to Carolina's eventual success. One of those plays was Marlon McCree's last second tip-away of J.P. Losman's third quarter end zone pass to Lee Evans. The play was eerily similar to Ken Lucas' bat-down of a pass in Phoenix destined for Larry Fitzgerald. Buffalo eventually settled for a Lindell 33-yard field goal.
* I think Bill Maas should retire. Again.
* Fairly mistake-free football game. 4 penalties for each team. Carolina did have some costly false-start penalties while Buffalo had a major facemask flag in the fourth.
* I admit that I thought Will Witherspoon's failure to corral a sure interception on the Bills' final drive would come back to haunt the Panthers.
* Buffalo's Roscoe Parrish received two punts – both of them fair catches. I think that's more than Todd Sauerbrun produced all of last season.
* The league competition committee might want to take a second look at the rule that prevents a replay challenge on plays where a down-by-contact whistle blows. Referees are schooled to not blow the whistle when they aren't sure, yet they make mistakes, like the one made Sunday when Parrish clearly fumbled a kickoff return, recovered by the Panthers, but was whistled down-by-contact.
Rules allow a down-by-contact challenge but not a challenge on a fumble recovered after the whistle is blown. The replay challenge is designed to limit referee mistakes. So why not down-by-contact whistles that could have had a major impact on the outcome of a game?
FOURTH AND GOALThe Panthers under John Fox have always been a streaky club. Injuries have been a major contributor to this phenomenon.
During the 2003 run to the Super Bowl, Carolina remained relatively injury free. Continuity between coaches, players and support personnel allowed the keep-chopping philosophies of John Fox to find purchase, take hold and produce. A world championship came a mere whisker away from happening.
Last season's painful odyssey magnified the impact of injury on the success of the franchise, but it also brought to light a lack of depth at key positions and a fundamental flaw in Fox's system - a failure to make changes on the fly.
It took a couple of games for the Panthers to adjust to life without Kris Jenkins. They also got pounded in Chicago after Dan Morgan left early on with an ankle injury.
Deserved or not, the Panthers under Fox have developed a reputation for streaky play brought on by injury, so the concern remains.
TOUCHDOWNAny team is fragile when it comes to injuries. The Eagles, for example, are to '05 what the Panthers were to '04. The Patriots are certainly struggling this season due to a landslide of injuries to their secondary. So impact of injury isn't the special province of the Panthers.
Carolina, in fact, managed to address some of their depth concerns this past offseason by signing a couple of key free agent targets and several solid role players also from free agency. That depth lessened the impact a poor college draft would have had.
In the end, Fox probably has enough talent and depth to overcome an injury or two, even to a key player.
The fact remains though that the Panthers are not the most reactive bunch when it comes to injury. The system just isn't that malleable.
Stay healthy and Carolina has as good a shot at getting to the Super Bowl as any team in the league. Get dinged up past the limits of the system and the prospects become iffy.
The Panthers are hurtling headlong into the maelstrom that is the NFC South.
Stay healthy through that to-the-death cage match and the playoffs will almost seem easy.
You can reach Chaz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published on PantherInsider.com