CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers finally proved they could pass for a win, but they lost their best pass-protector in the process.
The Panthers held on for a wild 28-19 win over Atlanta at Bank of America Stadium, pushing their record to 4-5.
But how long they can hold on with premier players falling by the wayside remains to be seen.
Last week it was linebacker Thomas Davis, and left tackle Jordan Gross added another big-ticket item to the injury report. Gross suffered a broken right ankle in the first half, and will likely be lost for the season, though the team wouldn’t acknowledge that part.
That left the Panthers shuffling in mid-stream, moving left guard Travelle Wharton over and putting second-year guard Mackenzy Bernardeau in at left guard.
“It’s going to be tough,” Wharton said of losing Gross. “He’s a leader man, and not only in the offensive line room, but for the team.
“It’s something that’s hard to swallow, but guys are just going to have to step up.”
Sunday, the guy that stepped up was quarterback Jake Delhomme, who was heavily protected for two weeks after his career low-point against Buffalo. But the Panthers didn’t insulate him against the Falcons, rather gave him a no-huddle offense to operate, one in which he called his own plays.
It was quite a departure from the previous two weeks, when they barely let him throw at all.
“Without a doubt,” Delhomme replied when asked if the game was a confidence boost. “I mean, I couldn’t blame them. Pretty much every time I was touching it I was turning it over.”
Not Sunday, his third straight game without an interception. He was 15-of-24 for 195 yards and two touchdowns passes — both to wide receiver Steve Smith for his second and third of the year to wide receivers.
Coupled with two touchdowns from Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers had the kind of balance on offense they had lacked, and needed coming down the stretch.
“You never want to settle,” Smith said. “We’ve still got room to improve, and some big games that are going to require the passing game to be at a high level, even improved from today.”