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Banged-up Delhomme 'feels good' following chest injury

DeAngelo Williams was dominant and set a team record, Julius Peppers was spectacular and Sherrod Martin came out of nowhere to produce two of Carolina's six forced turnovers.  

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- DeAngelo Williams was dominant and set a team record, Julius Peppers was spectacular and Sherrod Martin came out of nowhere to produce two of Carolina's six forced turnovers.

Yet, the game ball from the Panthers' surprisingly easy 34-21 win over Arizona on Sunday went to the guy who spent the fourth quarter getting a CT scan: embattled quarterback Jake Delhomme.

"That one is for No. 17," backup QB Matt Moore said.

Delhomme was back at Bank of America Stadium on Monday to watch the film of the unlikely victory. Coach John Fox said Delhomme has "some soreness, but feels good" after his chest injury and subsequent hospital visit. Meanwhile, his teammates finally did enough so Delhomme could just manage the game and not have to win it himself.

Delhomme entered the game with an NFL-high 13 interceptions and the Panthers with a league-worst minus-14 turnover margin. Three hours later, Delhomme had his first turnover-free game of the season and the Panthers forced Kurt Warner into five interceptions and a lost fumble.

Yes, the Panthers harassed Warner into the same six-turnover performance that Delhomme produced in the ugly playoff loss to the Cardinals in January that started his downfall.

"I actually read things today that we weren't trying as hard," Fox said. "The fact of the matter is when you turn the ball over at the rate we've turned it over we were fortunate to be at 2-4 prior to Sunday's game. We definitely had to get that fixed."

They did by returning to the style that Fox craves: a dominant running game combined with a hard-hitting, opportunistic defense.

The Panthers ran it right at the Cardinals' then-No. 1 ranked rushing defense. They ran it at eight-man fronts. They ran it on normal passing downs. They ran it so much (44 rushes to 15 passes) that Delhomme and Moore did not complete a single pass in the second half.

Williams had a career-long 77-yard run on the way to a 158-yard day that moved him past DeShaun Foster as the franchise's all-time leader in yards rushing. Jonathan Stewart added 87 more yards and two touchdowns. The 270 yards rushing was the second-most in team history.

"I think we've run the ball pretty effectively over the last month," Fox said. "That's not the area we've been concerned with."

That would be the passing game. Fox debated benching Delhomme last week after he threw three more picks in a home loss to Buffalo. He decided to stick with him, then watched Delhomme be unspectacular -- and mistake-free.

He completed 7 of 9 passes for 90 yards in the first half, including a 50-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith. It was Smith's first TD and Delhomme's first touchdown pass to a wide receiver all season.

The running game and the defense, though, took center stage. Peppers, who was criticized for his slow start and his $1 million-a-game salary, continued perhaps the best stretch of his career. He had a leaping interception and 13-yard return for a touchdown. He later sacked Warner and forced a fumble that all but ended Arizona's comeback hopes.

"All of the naysayers and people that are saying this and that about Julius Peppers, well you can say what you want about him, but we love him," linebacker Thomas Davis said.

A newcomer helped, too. Rookie Sherrod Martin, starting at free safety for Charles Godfrey (ankle), had two interceptions. He was part of a secondary that contained one of the NFL's most feared passing games.

That took the pressure off Delhomme at a critical point in his career. Sure, he was 0 for 5 passing in the second half before leaving after getting crunched by two Cardinals. But Delhomme, who expects to play Sunday at New Orleans, avoided the mistakes that have plagued his season.

"I was looking forward to getting back out there and just playing," Delhomme said. "And I think we did that."

It left the Panthers only 3-4 with a game against one of the NFL's best up next. But the performance was welcomed and needed by the coach, quarterback and his teammates.

"The biggest thing is just getting those turnovers flipped around," Fox said. "Maybe sometimes too much is put on '08. I mean we're in '09 now. Last year is last year and for this season at this point, I think that should do something to boost our confidence."

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