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Monday, September 14, 2009
QB crisis has potential to tumble Carolina brass

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

 
  Bob Donnan/US Presswire
  How much longer can Carolina coach John Fox stick with struggling quarterback Jake Delhomme?

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


I wasn’t at John Fox’s press conference Monday because I’m three states away, but I’ve been there before.

Anybody who has been in one of those sessions with Fox or seen the results in the media knows the drill: Fox comes out and defends quarterback Jake Delhomme and tries to spread the blame around.

“People on the outside can make big deals out of it,’’ Fox said Monday. “They've made big deals out of it before. You expect it. It's how you respond inside that room that's key.’’

Fox has made similar statements on similar Mondays through the years and his calm, “stick-with-it’’ approach usually has reaped positive results. But this time is different. This time, people on the outside are making a big deal out of Delhomme’s play and this time, people on the inside can’t just shrug their shoulders.

We’re one week into the season and the Panthers have a full-fledged quarterback crisis on their hands. Delhomme suddenly can't complete a pass to anybody wearing the same jersey, backup Josh McCown is hurt -- just placed on injured reserve and replaced by veteran A.J. Feeley -- and the Panthers only want to use Matt Moore if it’s a last resort.

Sad part is, it’s getting close to that point. Fox said Monday that Delhomme will start Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, who suddenly seem to have a good defense. If Delhomme plays the way he did Sunday against Philadelphia and the way he did in January’s home playoff loss to Arizona, Atlanta’s defense suddenly could be great and Carolina’s season, as well as Delhomme’s career, could be just about over.

No matter what Fox and general manager Marty Hurney say publicly, it has come to that point. Heck, one more Delhomme disaster and Fox and Hurney could be on their way out the door.

It’s that bad -- really.

Fox and Hurney never make panic moves, but maybe it’s time to at least start the process. They went 12-4 last year, but their season is on the verge of collapsing because one of the league’s most reliable quarterbacks no longer comes close to that description.

Maybe Delhomme goes down to Atlanta, plays a turnover-free game, Carolina wins and the Panthers -- as we know them -- live happily ever after. But how can you expect that after Delhomme has turned the ball over 11 times in his past two games?

You can’t and, surely, Fox and Hurney aren’t putting all their eggs in that basket. If they are, Hurney’s usually red face is suddenly going to be yellow (as in yoke). No, Fox and Hurney have to be at least preparing for another Delhomme fiasco and thinking about pulling the plug.

Those options aren’t especially bright this time of year, but that’s what happens when you watch Delhomme turn the ball over six times against Arizona and turn around and extend his contract. Yes, owner Jerry Richardson had to be on board with the Delhomme contract extension, but Fox and Hurney could be overboard if it turns out to be the colossal mistake it’s looking like now.

Where do the Panthers turn for potential help? Feeley's been a decent short-term fix at times in his past, but never has been a long-term answer and there were reasons why he wasn't on an opening-day roster. Feeley's a career backup, who could end up being thrown into a starting role very quickly.

If Delhomme really is done, this situation could be far worse than in 2007, when he went down with an elbow injury. Back then, Fox liked to publicly say that nobody was coming to his team’s rescue. The implication was everybody had to rise up. Back then, the Panthers had David Carr, who was Fox and Hurney’s hand-picked backup with the potential to be a starter and, unlike Feeley, he had the chance to spend an entire offseason with the playbook.

Only there was one big problem. Delhomme went down before Carr had a chance to overcome his five years of shellshock in Houston. Carr actually played worse than Delhomme has in his past two games and the Panthers turned it over to Vinny Testaverde, who, I think, played with Richardson on the 1958 Baltimore Colts.

Testaverde at least got the Panthers through the season in a somewhat respectable manner and Fox took cover in the old “You can’t win without your quarterback’’ excuse. That held some weight at the time, but it doesn’t now because Delhomme’s not hurt, he’s just suddenly horrible and Fox and Hurney hitched their wagon to him with the extension.

Now, Delhomme can drag them right down. Richardson is well aware that his franchise never has had back-to-back winning seasons. The owner isn’t showing a lot of patience these days, forcing his sons to resign as team presidents right before the season started.

You think he’s going to be patient with Fox, Hurney and Delhomme if this season goes as badly as it’s shaping up to? How long do you think mercurial wide receiver Steve Smith is going to stay quiet if he keeps getting three catches for 21 yards each week? Or fellow receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who is only slightly more polished in the art of sounding like a teammate (ask Kyle Orton about that)?

Something’s got to give here -- and very soon. Somebody’s got to rescue the Panthers before it’s too late, if it’s not already.

Either Delhomme’s got to suddenly recapture just a bit of that magic that led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in the 2003 season or Feeley's got to come in and suddenly be better than he ever was.

There’s no excuse for Fox and Hurney right now. They made the decision to stick with Delhomme. If he goes down, and there is no miracle from elsewhere, they all go down.