Carolina at Atlanta
1 p.m. FOX
Records: Carolina (0-1); Atlanta (1-0)
Opening line: Falcons by 61/2,
Last week: Panthers lost to Eagles 38-10; Falcons beat Dolphins 19-7
Panthers offense: Overall (32), Rush (15), Pass (31)
Panthers defense: Overall (10), Rush (29), Pass (1)
Falcons offense: Overall (19), Rush (26), Pass (18)
Falcons defense: Overall (9), Rush (21) Pass (8)
Streaks, stats and notes: The Panthers committed seven turnovers last week in a loss to Eagles. QB Jake Delhomme was yanked after throwing four INTs and losing a fumble, but he’ll start. ... Delhomme has 11 turnovers in his last two games, going back to the season-ending playoff loss against Arizona. ... Falcons are 10-4 against the Panthers at the Georgia Dome, though Carolina has won three of last four meetings in Atlanta. ... Atlanta is 8-1 at home under coach Mike Smith. ... Atlanta got four sacks from its defensive ends in Week 1: two each from John Abraham and unheralded Kroy Biermann. ... These teams met in Carolina’s first regular-season game in 1995.
ATLANTA — The Falcons expect to see an entirely different Jake Delhomme today.
You know, the guy who led the Carolina Panthers to their only Super Bowl. Not the one who ended last season and started this one by turning over the ball 11 times.
“After somebody has a bad game, I always look for them to come back and play very well,” Falcons defensive end John Abraham said. “I don’t see it as, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve got him, we can get him.’ I look at like we’ve really got to prepare this week. I know if I have a bad game, the next week I’m trying to play the best I can.”
Delhomme certainly had a bad game in the opener, throwing four interceptions and coughing up a fumble before he was yanked from a dismal 38-10 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Panthers are sticking with Delhomme, insisting they haven’t lost faith in the quarterback who led them to a Super Bowl in 2004 and the NFC South title just a year ago.
But there are plenty of doubters, especially among all those fans who booed Delhomme off the field a week ago in his own stadium.
They were still trying to shake the memory of his playoff debacle: five interceptions plus a fumble in an upset by Arizona last January.
Now this, another miserable showing.
“It wasn’t just on him,” running back DeAngelo Williams said. “It was a total team loss. The defense could have played a lot better. Our offense as a whole could have played a lot better. We didn’t block anybody. The tailbacks didn’t run through many tackles. As a whole, it’s not Jake’s fault. It’s all of us. We’re pointing fingers at each other, not one individual.”
The Panthers don’t have a lot of options, anyway. Backup Josh McCown was lost for the season with knee and foot injuries after replacing Delhomme.
Carolina quickly signed journeyman A.J. Feeley, who’s filled in at Philadelphia for Donovan McNabb, but he’s still learning the offense and would be a stopgap solution at best.
Plus, Carolina has a lot of money tied up in Delhomme, who received a five-year, $42.5 million contract during the offseason.
“I’d like to erase any doubts,” he said, looking for signs that his teammates might be losing confidence in their gritty leader. “I don’t think they have any. I really don’t think they do. But I’d like to erase them if there are any at all this weekend.”
The Falcons eased a lot of doubts about their defense in Week 1.
After ditching five starters from last year in hopes of getting younger and quicker, Atlanta struggled to stop first-team offenses during the preseason. The first game that counted was another matter.
The Falcons held Miami scoreless for most of a 19-7 victory, finally giving up a meaningless touchdown with less than 3« minutes to go.
Abraham had two sacks, one coming when he ran right over mammoth tackle Jake Long. Undersized end Kroy Biermann came up with two sacks of his own.
Atlanta recovered three fumbles and picked off a pass, winning the turnover battle 4-0.
“We’ve been preaching it the whole offseason, the whole training camp: ‘Play with a lot of intensity. Play with a lot of energy,”’ said linebacker Mike Peterson, one of the newcomers on defense. “We want to be one of the top defenses in the league. If you do your homework, you see the top defenses play with a lot of energy, all of them having fun. That’s when you cause turnovers.”
The Dolphins’ defense focused on stopping Atlanta’s running game, holding Michael Turner to 65 yards on 22 carries.
But that opened up things for new tight end Tony Gonzalez, who caught five passes from Matt Ryan for 73 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that essentially sealed the victory.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons on this offense,” said Turner, the NFL’s second-leading rusher in 2008. “We’ll just take turns each week. As long as we’re still getting the “W’ it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to rush for 100 yards every week for us to win.”
The Panthers would surely like to establish their running game, if for no other reason than to take some pressure off Delhomme.
Carolina fell behind quickly to the Eagles, largely abandoned the running game and finished with just 86 yards on the ground.
“We’ll definitely try to be more balanced going into Atlanta,” Williams said. “A lot of people think that we’re a run-first offense, but I think we’re a more balanced offense than a lot of teams.”
He’s impressed by the changes Atlanta made on defense. Unlike last year, when the safeties often led the team in tackles (never a good thing), starting linebackers Curtis Lofton (11 tackles, including a forced fumble), Peterson (seven tackles along with a forced fumble) and Stephen Nicholas (six tackles) were the top three on the stats sheet against Miami.
“They’ve got a bunch new faces over there,” Williams said.
“But they’ve been in that scheme long enough that they know their strengths and their weaknesses. They’ll show you one thing that you think is a weakness and it’s really a strength.”