<
>

Delhomme passes for TD, runs for another

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Eli Manning stepped to the line, pointing
out the defense just like brother Peyton.

Before he could call his audible, Carolina defensive tackle
Brentson Buckner pushed through the line and tossed the top draft
pick to the ground.

Welcome to the NFL, rookie.

Jake Delhomme spoiled Manning's debut as starter for the New
York Giants, throwing for one touchdown and running for another to
lead the Carolina Panthers to a 27-20 preseason victory Thursday
night.

"We did some good things, it was encouraging" said Delhomme,
who failed to lead any touchdown drives in last week's win over
Washington. "Last week, I was a little disappointed we didn't
punch it in. So we did some good things, and it was something to
build on."

Manning had an up-and-down day. His passes were sharp and mostly
on the mark early, but as the game wore on, the Panthers and their
vaunted defense figured him out.

Although Buckner's second-quarter takedown was flagged for
encroachment, Manning was sacked by Mark Fields three plays later
to bring his night to an end with Carolina leading 17-6. Manning
finished 9-for-15 for 117 yards.

"I've still got a lot to learn," Manning said. "Feeling
better in the pocket, being more comfortable in there. Standing
there making my reads and better throws. But every day and every
week, I feel more comfortable."

He proved to be a near carbon copy of his brother early, barking
out audibles at the line beginning with just his second play of the
game.

But unlike Peyton, the NFL's co-MVP last season for the
Indianapolis Colts, he wasn't always on the mark. On his second
series, he tried to change the play from the shotgun position but
ran out of time and earned a delay of game penalty.

Manning was elusive, though, avoiding a safety by dumping the
ball off just as Julius Peppers closed in on him in the end zone.

Peppers laughed about his near-miss later.

"It was a close call," Peppers said. "He threw it to no one.
In a real game, I mean, this was preseason, so he got away with a
close call."

In the end, the $45 million kid had impressed some of the
Panthers.

"He's going to be good," defensive end Mike Rucker said.
"They're trying to protect him with quick counts and hard counts
and quick throws. That's understandable. He'll be good when he gets
older."

On this night, it was Delhomme who sparkled.

An unheralded quarterback until he led Carolina into the Super
Bowl last season, Delhomme picked up right where he left off with a
sharp and confident passing game.

He went 11-of-13 for 144 yards, including back-to-back pretty
passes to Steve Smith. One was for 38 yards, and Smith added a leap
over his defenders on the next one, an 18-yard completion that
moved the Panthers to the 7-yard line.

Delhomme threw a touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad on the next
play for a 10-3 Carolina lead.

He later led the Panthers on a 12-play, 71-yard scoring drive
and capped it with his own 1-yard TD run. The snap on the play was
bad, and Delhomme had to fall away from the end zone. He recovered
about four yards out, then scrambled left and into the end zone
untouched for a 17-6 lead.

Manning probably moved ahead of Kurt Warner in the battle for
the starting job.

Warner was sacked on his first two plays of the game and four
times overall. He was intercepted late in the fourth quarter by
William Hampton, who returned it 49-yards for a touchdown to seal
the Carolina win.

Warner finished 9-of-11 for 71 yards.

"As we get closer to the season, we need to get some good
playing time," Warner said. "Both of us need an opportunity to
play and get a chance to get comfortable out there. But those
aren't our decisions."

Game notes
Carolina kicker John Kasay had field goals of 55 and 52
yards. ... New York kicker Todd France made field goals of 51 and
42 yards. ... Ron Dayne and Chris Douglas had 1-yard TD runs for
New York. ... Carolina linebacker Jessie Armstead, who spent nine
seasons with the Giants, was inactive because of an injured
shoulder. ... Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey did not play because
of a foot injury. ... Fields, who missed all of last season with
Hodgkin's disease, had five tackles and two sacks.