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Playoffs bring out the best in Delhomme

The Carolina quarterback has the best-ever passer rating in postseason play.

By JOANNE KORTH
Published January 19, 2006


Not long ago, Jake Delhomme was an NFL nobody, a backup on a bad team. Now he keeps company with Joe Montana and Bart Starr on a list of quarterbacks who excel in the postseason.

In fact, he tops the list.

Something about the playoffs brings out the best in Delhomme, who will try to lead fifth-seeded Carolina to its second Super Bowl in three seasons with a victory Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at Seattle.

"As Jake goes, we're going to go," Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers said. "And right now, he's going pretty good."

In six career postseason games Delhomme has a 5-1 record with a passer rating of 108.4, highest among players with at least 150 attempts. Higher than Starr. Higher than Montana. Not bad for an undrafted free agent with a reputation for taking chances.

"I just try to go out and do my best," said Delhomme, 31. "The biggest thing I always tell myself - well, this is only my second time in the playoffs - but I need to be Jake Delhomme of the Carolina Panthers. I don't need to be anybody else. I don't want to try to be anybody else."

Unheralded out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Delhomme signed as a free agent with New Orleans, his home-state team. In five seasons he threw 86 passes, 10 in the final three. He signed with Carolina before 2003 hoping to compete for the starting job but began the season as Rodney Peete's backup.

Delhomme finally got his chance, replacing Peete in the opener and leading Carolina to a comeback victory. He has started every game since, bringing energy, excitement and a thick drawl to the Panthers offense.

"It's been a long journey. It's been fun," Delhomme said. "Never did I ever dream when I signed here that we were going to go to the Super Bowl our first year and the NFC Championship game two of my first three years."

Delhomme's enthusiasm is infectious. After big plays, it's not unusual to see him running down the field yelling and gesturing. He received his first Pro Bowl selection this season, yet gave most of the credit to teammates.

"He's a perfect quarterback for us," Peppers said. "It seems like when he plays well, we play well as a team. I guess there is something about the postseason that brings the best out of us, because when we get to this time of the season, he's playing at that level that we need him to play at to win these games.

This postseason, Delhomme's 112.6 passer rating is 24.5 points higher than his regular-season rating of 88.1. In upset victories against the fourth-seeded Giants and second-seeded Bears, he was 39-of-55 for 459 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

"Jake Delhomme is underrated," CBS analyst Phil Simms said. "He's kind of dynamic. He's got a sneaky big arm. He's just elusive enough to move around. And he's not afraid to take chances.

"Jake Delhomme is not worried about trying to keep a perfect quarterback rating. He's trying to make plays. When he's on, when it works, you really see great things from him."

In the division game at Chicago, Delhomme avenged a regular-season loss in which he threw two interceptions and was sacked eight times by throwing for 300 yards and three scores against a defense that had allowed only 10 touchdown receptions all season.

Prone to taking risks, he makes ill-advised throws over the middle as often in the postseason as he does in the regular season. But in the playoffs he seems to get away with it, adding to the mystique.

"Jake has been big for us in the playoffs the two years we've been in them," coach John Fox said. "We're going to need him to continue that as we move forward. He's definitely been outstanding. That maybe was one of his better performances (Sunday)."

Most impressive is that Delhomme has done his best work on the road, where hostile crowds make it difficult for offenses to communicate. With the win at Chicago, Delhomme became the first quarterback to win his first four road playoff games. Also, he matched the all-time road playoff record shared by Len Dawson and Roger Staubach at 4-1.

Delhomme's only playoff loss came at a neutral site, to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

To win a fifth straight road game, the Panthers have to beat the NFC's top seed, a Seahawks team that is 9-0 at home this season.

"It doesn't bother us to go on the road," Delhomme said. "It just so happens this team, we've been here before. This team knows how to prepare, knows how to practice. Guys want to make plays. It doesn't matter who it is.

"You don't have big eyes in the huddle. You have guys who expect to go out and play well. And when you're the quarterback on a team like that, it makes it fun because they make plays for you."