Carolina Panthers

Panthers' passing game gets back on track against Saints

CHARLOTTE -- Every part of their game was awful last week, but the Panthers' passing game had plenty to prove this week.

They did just that, slicing up a wounded New Orleans secondary throughout their 30-7 win. Quarterback Jake Delhomme completed 14-of-22 for 195 yards and two touchdowns, for a rating of 122.3. Contrast that to last week's game at Tampa, when he threw three interceptions and had a rating of 38.6.

"I'm not sure it could have gotten any worse than last week," coach John Fox said. "Today is more what I was accustomed to. We looked like this in games past."

The one thing that's become clear is that any rust Steve Smith had after missing the first two games is gone. He caught six passes for 122 yards and a touchdown -- which came when Delhomme split Saints defenders Randall Gay and Roman Harper as Smith slid through the end zone on the seat of his pants.

"In warm-ups, I catch the ball sitting down, because you never know," Smith said.

Delhomme said the play had worked in practice earlier this week, so they had an idea it might Sunday. Along the same lines, Delhomme shot down the idea that anything Smith does anymore surprises him.

"Not really, and maybe this is wrong, but I expect it," Delhomme said. "I expect him to get open every play, and he knows that. If I didn't feel that way towards him, he'd be upset. I expect him to be that good. He's in the prime of his career. He's strong, explosive and fast. He's a stud.

"That's a saying I heard from a coach a long time ago (former offensive coordinator Dan Henning), 'You've got a stud, feed him.' That is what I try to do."

Things were going so well for the Panthers that even plays that were messed up worked.

In the second quarter, running back Jonathan Stewart lost his balance and nearly fell into the line. But before he went down, he flicked awkwardly back to Delhomme, who hit Smith for a 29-yard gain.

• CLEANING IT UP: Panthers punter Jason Baker did his job five times and none were blocked.

The Panthers had given up three blocked punts in six games, and two were returned for touchdowns. That caused a series of changes to their punt team, with four of the 11 spots different from last week's lineup.

Fullback Brad Hoover was back in his normal spot as the protector (the last guy before the punter). Linebacker Landon Johnson had done that last week, failing to collect the onrushing Geno Hayes. Johnson was moved up to the line, replacing the inactive Adam Seward. Safety Nate Salley filled Hoover's left slot role, while linebacker James Anderson replaced Dante Rosario as the left tackle. Rosario had the initial whiff on Hayes last week.

On the first punt, the Saints were actually more disorganized than the Panthers had been, with just 10 on the field before a late run-on. They tried jumping around to create confusion, but the Panthers got it off cleanly.

"There was a little more urgency, because it has happened so early in games," Hoover said of the first one. "For us, we just want to go out and play confident. The more and more things go your way, granted, they can change in a heartbeat, but the more confident you can be."

• MORE LINE DANCING: For just the second time this season, the Panthers started the same line for the second straight game. The only downside is that they're still without two starters, as injured right tackle Jeff Otah and center Ryan Kalil were on the inactive list with ankle problems.

Jeremy Bridges and Geoff Hangartner replaced them again. The line paved the way for 143 rushing yards, and though it allowed a sack, it was the first in four weeks.

• ONE-LINER CITY: Smith was in a good mood, so he was asked if he's been tutoring the Panthers' defensive backs on dropping passes. The Carolina secondary would have half a dozen more interceptions if they had better hands, so Smith was teasing safety Chris Harris about it.

"I joke around with him, but the honest truth is that all secondary players are offensive rejects," Smith said.

But the line of the day came from beleaguered right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, who had to board a plane for a seven-hour flight to England after taking the beating.

When asked where the Saints "go from here," Stinchcomb replied: "We go to London. Pretty quickly, actually."

• EXTRA POINTS: Kicker John Kasay was 3-for-3 on field goals Sunday, keeping him perfect on the year in 14 attempts. Going back to last season, he's hit 19 straight three-pointers. ... Though there were a few minor dings, Fox said he had no injuries of note to report after the game. ... Along with Otah, Kalil and Seward, the following players were inactive: Wide receivers D.J. Hackett and Kenneth Moore, defensive tackle Gary Gibson, cornerback C.J. Wilson and third quarterback Matt Moore.

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