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 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -His right elbow constantly ached. His supporting cast was struggling. The mistakes, interceptions and losses mounted.
Midway through the 2006 season, something Jake Delhomme thought would never happen did: football was no longer fun.
``It became more of a grind with me,'' Carolina's quarterback said. ``You can't play good football when you're like that.''
Three games into the 2007 season, Delhomme's troublesome elbow finally gave out. He spent the rest of the season watching helplessly as the Panthers limped to a second straight non-playoff season.
As Delhomme began the long rehabilitation from ligament-replacement surgery last winter, the Panthers heeded his call to get more playmakers, signing two receivers, including his old buddy, Muhsin Muhammad.
Armed with his new weapons and an improved running game, a pain-free Delhomme has engineered two fourth-quarter comebacks to start the season despite being without his top target, the suspended Steve Smith.
aining camp fight over, Delhomme stood in front of his locker this week with a wild smile. The former Pro Bowler is enjoying every second of the Panthers' surprising 2-0 start.
Football is enjoyable again.
``There's nothing like walking into the locker room the last two weeks, before anybody gets to come in, when it's just the players and the coaches,'' Delhomme said. ``There's just something about it, just that sense of accomplishment, whereas a couple of years ago it was more a sense of relief.''
Delhomme's signature enthusiasm - and gunslinger personality - has been on display in thrilling wins over San Diego and Chicago.
After the Chargers took a 24-19 lead, the Panthers took over at their own 32 with 2:21 left. Delhomme then completed 8 of 11 passes for 68 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Dante Rosario as time expired.
Then Sunday, Delhomme led the Panthers from a 17-3 third-quarter deficit. On the game-winning drive, Delhomme was 3-for-3 for 46 yards before Jonathan Stewart's 1-yard TD run with 3:52 left.
Overall, Delhomme has thrown for an unspectacular 375 yards with a passer rating of 73.0. But similar to Delhomme's magical 2003 season, when the Panthers earned the nickname ``Cardiac Cats'' for their series of comeback wins in reaching the Super Bowl, Delhomme has saved his best for the clutch.
Muhammad said. ``He's done an awesome job, and he's just so poised. I don't know if it's just that he's so excited and so pumped up that he doesn't even realize what's going on around him, but for some particular reason Jake has been so poised in those situations.''
With an impressive running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Stewart, an improved, bigger offensive line, and better receivers, Delhomme is no longer pressing.
``I think offensively I thought we were limited in certain things we could do,'' Delhomme said. ``Maybe I'm putting too much on myself, but that's just my opinion. I think we've added some help and that has helped. I just thought that maybe I tried to do too much. I assume that's growing pains. I wish I could have learned it a little sooner, but I didn't. That's just part of the deal. You've just got to go through it.''
Muhammad, who left Carolina for Chicago after the 2004 season and returned in February, has said Delhomme now places more emphasis on practice. It's part of Delhomme's maturation after a couple of years of misery and injury.
``You realize how much you miss it. You play this because you have fun,'' Delhomme said. ``There's nothing like preparing all week, doing the best you can and going out on Sunday and seeing if you can get a W.''
a'il Diggs (shoulder) and CB Chris Gamble (arm) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday's workout. ... KR Ryne Robinson (knee) got through some of practice, but it's uncertain if he'll be ready to play Sunday.

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