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News » Delhomme proud, relieved

Delhomme proud, relieved

Delhomme proud, relieved
Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme stood at the podium Sunday, wearing a look of relief on his face and the fruits of his team's season-long labor on his back and head.

The cap and shirt said it all: "NFC South Champions."

"It means a lot to win this division," Delhomme said after the Panthers withstood a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Saints and a near record-setting performance by quarterback Drew Brees to win 33-31 at the Superdome.

"We're in the final eight. This is what you play for."

Kicker John Kasay settled the issue with his fourth field goal of the game, a 42-yarder with one second remaining to give the Panthers the division crown, the second seed in the NFC and a first-round bye.

It came to pass in large part because of a crucial 39-yard completion from Delhomme to Pro Bowl-bound wide receiver Steve Smith that moved the ball from Panthers' 18 to the Saints' 43 inside the final three minutes.

Smith out-leaped and out-wrestled Saints cornerback Jason David and safety Roman Harper, somehow splitting both defenders for possession of the ball in front of the Panthers' bench.

"Obviously, it was big," said Delhomme, who took a hit just as he released the ball. "I can't wait to see it. That's him. He makes big plays. We may be a little unorthodox in the way we do things, but we work well together, and we're going to try and keep going."

Five plays later, Kasay kicked the Saints where it hurt the most -- right between the uprights in the Girod Street end zone -- and prevented the Black & Gold from their second winning season under Coach Sean Payton.

"It was a scramble drill, and I just scrambled," said Smith, who finished with five catches for a game-high 134 yards. "I was deep. I saw Jake kind of looking my way, and I took off and hoped he saw me. He saw me and threw the ball deep.

"My job is to catch the ball."

Smith not only caught the ball, but he apparently got the last laugh on David, too.

"He had been woofin' and yappin' at me the whole game, telling me I was washed up and stuff like that, trying to get in my head," said Smith, who finished the regular season with 78 catches for 1,421 yards and six touchdowns.

"Jason David thinks he's a shutdown corner. He's no shutdown corner; maybe in the 'popcorn' league, but not in the NFL."

Carolina needed the late heroics from Delhomme, Smith and Kasay to fend off the Saints, who had rallied from a 30-10 deficit after three quarters to take the lead 31-30 on Brees' fourth touchdown pass with 3:11 remaining.

Brees' 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lance Moore left the quarterback 16 passing yards shy of eclipsing Dan Marino's NFL record of 5,084 set in 1984.

Brees had one more shot at Marino's record -- and the win -- but a desperation pass never reached its intended receiver in front of the Panthers' "prevent" coverage. Brees finished with 5,069 passing yards, becoming the second player to eclipse the 5,000-yard mark.

"I'd love for this to have been a boring game," Delhomme said. "But what did they have to lose? It's not like we were playing a team that can't score. We were playing a team that can light it up and light it up quickly. When No. 9 (Brees) was sitting down on the sidelines, that's when I felt comfortable."

KASAY AT THE KICK: Kasay, still one of the NFL's most accurate kickers at age 39, atoned for an earlier miss with his winning field goal. He missed wide left on a 41-yard attempt in the third quarter that would have extended the Panthers' lead to 33-10. That miss snapped the NFL's longest active streak for consecutive made field-goal attempts from inside the 50 at 30.

"I just knew this game would come down to a final kick," said Kasay, who has made 28 of 31 field-goal attempts this season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 234 -- Combined rushing yards by Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams (178) and Jonathan Stewart (56) on 42 carries for a 5.6-yard average. Stewart scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, making him and Williams the fourth tandem in NFL history to score at least 10 rushing touchdowns in the same season. Williams led the NFL with 18, Stewart had 10.

WORTH REPEATING: "We did what we wanted to do, as far as not allowing (Brees) to get the record against us. The record thing was a pride thing, because that would have been a slap in our face. He almost got it, but he didn't." -- Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 29, 2008

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