Sports

For Jake, there's no place like home

NEW ORLEANS - Jake Delhomme has several reasons to love the Saints.

They were the team of his south Louisiana childhood, the first NFL team to put him on a roster, and ever since he left, he has been able to beat them with regularity.

The quarterback is 8-2 against New Orleans since joining the Panthers in 2003.

When asked about the last time he lost a game in the Superdome, Delhomme responded, "I don't know. I'd be lying. I'm not sure."

There's a good reason he can't remember. It's never happened.

He had only one home start for the Saints, his first career start in 1999, and led New Orleans to an upset of the Dallas Cowboys.

He has won all four of his Carolina starts in the Superdome and also beat New Orleans in LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge in 2005, when the Saints were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

He even beat Tulane in the Superdome - twice - when he played for the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (then known as Southwestern Louisiana) in the mid-1990s.

The Panthers haven't lost in Louisiana since 2001. This Sunday, though, they will face what increasingly is looking like the best Saints team in the franchise's 43-year history.

Having matched the 1991 Saints for the club's best start, the 2009 Saints need a victory Sunday to give New Orleans fans something they've never seen: an 8-0 team.

Delhomme is calling New Orleans "the best team in football."

"What they do is awesome. It's fun to watch," Delhomme said. "On some Mondays you pull up film from around the league. I'll pull up some Saints film and just watch what they're doing.

"We have to go into the Superdome thinking we're going to play good football, because if you don't, they're going to run you out of there," Delhomme added. "It's kind of what they've done for the majority of their games this year."

Considering all that, it's hardly surprising oddsmakers are forecasting the end of Carolina's winning streak in Louisiana. They've made New Orleans two-touchdown favorites.

The Saints aren't buying it. Coach Sean Payton has made his players aware he has yet to beat the Panthers in New Orleans, and the fact Carolina (3-4) has won three of its past four games wasn't lost on them, either.

"Their slow start this year is no reflection on the type of team they are," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "They've kind of come out like gangbusters the last few weeks and they're playing extremely well defensively."

Also, the Saints have been torched in recent years by Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, who's made 11 catches for 256 yards and a touchdown in his last two games against New Orleans.

"He's an unbelievable football player. He does things that obviously you can't coach," Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. "He's so explosive. The thing that I think he does the best is that for a little guy, when the ball goes up in the air, he plays like a 6-10 (basketball) center. He goes and gets it. What you have to do is to turn his little body over so that when he does get it, he lands on his head and he doesn't come back in for a while."

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