A friend of mine was busy texting when one of the key plays of Sunday's 28-21 Carolina victory over Tampa Bay unfolded. As Buccaneer safety Tanard Jackson picked off a short Jake Delhomme pass and began his 26-yard return for the touchdown that ultimately tied the game midway through the fourth quarter, I tapped my buddy on the shoulder. I pointed at the T.V. a few feet in front of us and he lifted his head to watch.
"I hate Jake Delhomme," he said. He shook his head and could barely suppress a smile.
It has become comical, hasn't it? Even for Panthers fans. Five games into a season that began on the heels of a six-turnover performance in a shocking home playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals, we are seeing a pattern emerge: Delhomme is a turnover machine. He has thrown 10 interceptions and fumbled three times, although the Panthers recovered two of those fumbles.
Here's the kicker: Delhomme is the NFL co-leader in interceptions thrown this season, even though he has only tossed 133 passes. That gives him a 7.5 percent interception rate (This means for every 40 passes Delhomme throws, three are picked off. Co-NFL interceptions leader Mark Sanchez of the Jets, by comparison, throws three picks every 50 passes).
That's not just bad, that is historically one of the worst five-game starts to a season in modern NFL history...
Delhomme's 7.5 interception percentage is the fourth-worst rate among quarterbacks to throw at least 10 picks in the first five games of a season since 1981, often recognized as the beginning of the modern era in the NFL. He is one of only 19 quarterbacks over the last 28 full seasons to be picked off 10 times through five games (the stats from 1987 are marred by the presence of replacement players for three of the first five games).
(Interestingly, 30 quarterbacks threw at least 10 interceptions in the first five games of a season from 1970-80).
Here are the top five of those 19 players, ranked in order of highest interception rate:
1. Steve Grogan, 9.0 percent, 10 picks, 1988 Patriots
2. Wade Wilson, 8.2 percent, 10 picks, 1991 Vikings
3. Jake Plummer, 7.6 percent, 12 picks, 1999 Cardinals
4. Jake Delhomme, 7.5 percent, 10 picks, 2009 Panthers
5. Dan Fouts, 7.4 percent, 14 picks, 1986 Chargers
To be fair, Matt Cavanagh of the 1981 Patriots and Steve DeBerg of the 1986 Bucs each threw interceptions at a higher rate than Delhomme through five games as well. Both were only picked off nine times. But regardless of Cavanagh and DeBerg, this much is clear:
Delhomme this season is throwing interceptions at a higher rate than any quarterbacks in 10 years. And he is among the most careless with the ball since 1981.
That trend does not bode well for the Panthers, or the Delhomme camp. Of the other four quarterbacks on that list above, only Plummer went on to enjoy success later in his NFL career. Grogan and Fouts retired shortly thereafter, and Wilson became a backup for the last few years of his career.
When you examine all the quarterbacks to throw at least 10 picks in the first five games of a season since 1981, it doesn't bode well for Delhomme either. Here are the other names on that 19-player list: Daunte Culpepper (2005 Vikings), Peyton Manning (1998 Colts), Vinny Testaverde (1988 Bucs), Vince Ferragamo (1985 Bills and 1983 Rams), Gary Hogeboom (1989 Cardinals), Paul McDonald (1984 Browns), Warren Moon (1993 and 1986 Oilers), Trent Dilfer (1996 Bucs), Mark Malone (1986 Steelers), Dan Marino (1986 and 1989 Dolphins), Hugh Millen (1992 Patriots).
Marino threw the ball a ton, and his interception percentage was not too high. Manning and 1986 Moon were early in their NFL careers and later turned into stars. Testaverde was in his second year.
But 1993 was the beginning of the end of good play for Moon -- much like it was for Fouts in 1986, Grogan in 1988, Wilson in 1991, Culpepper in 2005, and Ferragamo in 1983 and 1985. The other players were journeymen who never enjoyed as much success as Delhomme in the first place.
His play over five games does not guarantee the 34-year-old Delhomme is done as a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL. But history is clearly against him.