CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jake Delhomme helped the Carolina Panthers to a perfect 8-0 mark at home this season with nearly flawless play.
With the season on the line in the playoffs, he fumbled deep in Carolina territory.
Mistake by the Jake
Panthers QB Jake Delhomme was unable to celebrate his 34th birthday as he admitted it was the worst game of his career:
» Passer rating: 39.1
» Completions: 17
» Attempts: 34
» Passing yards: 205
» Touchdowns: 1
» Interceptions: 5
» Fumbles: 1
Then he threw an interception on the goal line.
Then another, and another, one in the end zone, and then another.
All told, Carolina's quarterback turned the ball over six times Saturday night and Arizona converted his errors into 23 points en route to a 33-13 victory over the Panthers in the NFC divisional playoffs.
"I'm at a loss for words," Delhomme said. "Disappointed. Extremely disappointed. I don't know what else to say. My fault. I should get the blame. It's inexcusable."
Asked if it was the worst game of his career, Delhomme didn't hesitate: "It's not even close. Not even remotely close."
Not really the way Delhomme envisioned playing on his 34th birthday.
Delhomme entered as the top rated postseason quarterback in this year's playoffs, with a 95.0 passer rating and just five interceptions in seven previous games. And he was playing in the cozy confines of Bank of America Stadium, where he'd thrown just five interceptions all year as the Panthers were the only NFL team to go undefeated at home.
So facing an Arizona team with virtually no postseason success in franchise history and a penchant for falling apart in games played on the East Coast, Delhomme simply had to be average to move the Panthers into their third NFC championship game since the 2003 season.
But Delhomme was terrible instead. He overthrew his targets, found star receiver Steve Smith only twice the entire game, and tossed the ball into double coverage more times than he'll care to remember.
He finished 17-for-34 for 205 yards with five interceptions and a fumble, and buried his face in his hands in humiliation as the errors mounted up. He didn't celebrate a bit when he connected on an 8-yard TD pass to Smith with 50 seconds left in the game.
-- Jake Delhomme
The last player to throw as many as five interceptions in the playoffs was Oakland's Rich Gannon in the 2003 Super Bowl against Tampa Bay.
Delhomme didn't wait until after the game to apologize to his teammates, telling them several times in the huddle during the fourth quarter this playoff disaster was on him.
"I told them I apologize for not giving us a chance," he said. "That's just how I felt. I'm not looking for sympathy one bit. That's the last thing I want. I just wanted to let them know, the work I put in this week, obviously it wasn't good enough."
But his teammates were fiercely defensive of their leader, refusing to let him take the blame alone.
"Jake's a big boy," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "If you're the quarterback, you take all the praise and you take all the criticism. He's our quarterback. He's our starter, our leader. We wouldn't have done anything this year as close to what we did without him."
Smith, pestered all day by Antrel Rolle and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, said he'd ignore anyone who directed fault at his quarterback.
"We win as a team, we lose as a team. Most people can blame all they want. But Jake? I'd take Jake any day," he said. "I'd take him after that. I'd take him after the New Orleans game or any other game. That's my quarterback. That's the guy I stand behind."
"Jake is not the only person who didn't play well," Peppers said. "You can't single him out. Point a finger out at every other group in here that didn't play well."
Delhomme moved the Panthers quickly downfield to a touchdown on their opening possession, he unraveled shortly after when he fumbled on a sack deep in Carolina territory.
On first-and-10 at the 20, Antonio Smith broke through the line and swatted the ball out of Delhomme's hands, then threw his body on it for the recovery. Two plays later, Edgerrin James scored his first touchdown since Oct. 5 on a 4-yard run that gave the Cardinals a 14-7 lead they never relinquished.
He moved the Panthers downfield on their next possession, but with the end zone in sight, he was intercepted by rookie Rodgers-Cromartie on the goal line on the first play of the second quarter.
That set up the first of Neil Rackers' four field goals and put the Cardinals well on their way to just their fourth playoff victory in franchise history.
Delhomme was intercepted again in the first half when Gerald Hayes picked off a pass intended for Muhsin Muhammad.
His third pick ended a scoring opportunity set up by Jon Beason interception of Kurt Warner that gave the Panthers the ball at the Arizona 31. But Delhomme tried to force the ball into Smith two plays later, and it instead bounced off Rodgers-Cromartie's fingers, through Smith's hands, and into Rolle's arms.
Interception No. 4 was another look to Smith in the end zone that was grabbed by Ralph Brown early in the fourth quarter, and pick No. 5 came on the next possession when Roderick Hood hijacked a short pass intended for Muhammad.
"I had a hand in six turnovers," Delhomme shrugged. "You're not going to beat anybody (doing that). Especially in a playoff game. It's inexcusable and disappointing."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press