CHARLOTTE -- In the moments immediately after the Carolina Panthers' 27-13 win at St. Louis, quarterback Jake Delhomme said in no uncertain terms that Steve Smith was the key to the success of the new offense.
But looking back, he had plenty to do with it himself.
Delhomme completed 18-of-27 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, good for a quarterback rating of 125.7. That's second in the NFC and fourth in the league, behind just Tom Brady, Chad Pennington and Tony Romo.
The clean game also underscored the progress Delhomme's made adapting to new coordinator Jeff Davidson's system. Always regarded as a quarterback who'll make mistakes because of his willingness to take chances, he drew praise from his coach for his efficiency.
Much of that had to do with the running game and pass protection, but Delhomme surely had a hand in it.
"Any quarterback does a lot better when the timing is right and you have protection," coach John Fox said Monday. "He did exceptionally well on some things that maybe were covered. He threw the ball away a couple of times that, from a coaching standpoint, those were good plays. As a fan you look at it and you wonder 'What are they doing?' But he took a potentially bad play and managed it well, causing it to be a no play, rather than a minus play."
• TIMING IS EVERYTHING: After all the offseason fretting about the safety position, the Panthers better hope they've got enough guys on hand now.
They felt like they solidified themselves by trading Chicago for Chris Harris and picking up Green Bay's Marquand Manuel after final cuts. And it's a good thing, because the safety market's about to get very thin.
At least three teams lost starting safeties in the opening weekend, with Buffalo starter and Rock Hill-native Ko Simpson breaking his ankle, Houston's Jason Simmons and Chicago's Mike Brown suffering knee injuries and Miami's Yeremiah Bell tearing his Achilles tendon.
They'll now be picking from the same scrap heap the Panthers have been sifting through in recent months.
Teams are more willing to sign veterans this week anyway, since vested veterans (players with four years experience) who are on Week 1 rosters see their salaries guaranteed for the year. Now, teams can sign a guy, and if they cut him later, only owe him weekly checks instead of the entire season's allotment.
• OTIS, MY MAN: Backup defensive end Otis Grigsby wasn't a sure thing to play Sunday, but as he's done in earning a roster spot, he kept making plays all day. Because of injuries, he was the team's third end, and finished the game with two quarterback hurries. The last one came on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter, effectively ending the game when Rams quarterback Marc Bulger threw the ball away hurriedly.
Not bad for a 26-year-old playing his first NFL game, after five years of going to training camps (and overseas) waiting for the chance.
"It was exciting. It all seems like a big blur now that I think about it," Grigsby said. "My first play, I got knocked on my butt. I was like, 'Oh man, I'm so nervous.' After that, it just kind of kept going. To finish it off like that was nice."
• EXTRA POINTS: Fox said rookie returner Ryne Robinson had some things to fix before next week's game. The fourth-round pick looked acceptable but not outstanding on punt returns (7.0-yard average with a long of 14), but didn't show much spark on kickoffs, with a 21.3 average that wasn't much better than the team's struggles last year. "Anytime you put a rookie into his first game in the National Football League it's a little understandable," Fox said. "There are some things he can clean up, but he made some good decisions and he did some good things. Obviously there are things we need to work on as I'm sure there will be after next week's game." ... Former Panthers tight end Michael Gaines, who was waived with an injury settlement, signed with Buffalo on Monday.