FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - When Carolina's Jake Delhomme starts his fourth career NFL game Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons only hope the fifth-year veteran will continue his penchant for interceptions.
Delhomme (pronounced Duh-lome) improved his career record to 2-1 when the visiting Panthers stunned defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay with a 12-9 overtime victory two weeks ago.
Running back Stephen Davis, however, carried the offense that day with 142 yards rushing as the 28-year-old Delhomme failed to direct a touchdown drive and threw two interceptions.
"I missed some throws in there that I wish I would have made," Delhomme told the Charlotte Observer. "But I'm going to keep working on them and trying to get better."
The Falcons, who shut down Carolina's quarterback combination of Rodney Peete, Chris Weinke and Randy Fasani in two blowout victories last year, understand Delhomme's tendency to get rattled. He has nine interceptions, six touchdowns and a passer rating of 48.2 in a career that spans only eight games.
Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan acknowledges the skill of Tampa Bay's defense, but he also thinks Delhomme's pitiful performance (9-for-23 passing for 96 yards and a 15.9 rating) carries a deeper meaning.
"We know our guys up front are going to get a strong pass rush like they did against them last year," Buchanan said. "For the guys in the secondary, we just have to be patient and not let anyone get behind us."
Receivers Muhsin Muhammad, Steve Smith and Ricky Proehl each caught a touchdown pass in Carolina's season-opening win over Jacksonville, but the Panthers' passing game has struggled overall. Carolina (2-0), which ranks No. 30 with a 103.5 average, is allowing one sack every 10.2 attempts.
Panthers coach John Fox made Delhomme his No. 1 quarterback when Peete, a 15-year-veteran, struggled against the Jaguars.
"Jake had his ups and downs in his first start, but he came up with some key completions when we needed them," Fox said. "He plays with confidence, and as he gets more experience, I'm sure he will be more comfortable."
WHAT'S HE GOT
Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme is 2-1 as a starter in his career, but his numbers don't back him up: