CHARLOTTE -- Carolina's offensive line stepped up to protect quarterback Jake Delhomme early this week. But the group did not expect the attackers to be onlookers and interested parties who lit up message boards, radio phone lines and Twitter pages with a fusillade of barbs aimed at the quarterback.
"You obviously feel awful," said center
"A lot of pressure is put on Jake, as the average Joe would view it, but in reality, it's kind of tough for him to make plays when he's got guys in his face and guys are tipping balls and the pocket's breaking down because we're not on the same page."
Delhomme took responsibility, but so did Kalil and his fellow linemen. The quarterback's struggles were more easily identifiable and quantifiable: four interceptions and 10 incompletions in seven attempts. But there were statistics for the offensive line that not only registered its struggles Sunday -- but illustrated the drastic, unexpected contrast between its performance against the Eagles and its work last year.
In pass protection, the line conceded five sacks and 10 quarterback hits on Sunday -- far beyond their per-game averages of just 1.25 sacks and 2.69 quarterback hits in 2008. They also allowed one quarterback hit every 3.9 pass plays Sunday, a rate more than twice as frequent as in 2008, when just one of every 10.1 pass plays ended with the passer absorbing a hit.
"I think the most frustrating part (is) that mistakes are being made that we haven't made before," Kalil said. "Maybe early last season, but they're things we put well behind us in the past. Easy things."
The simple explanation for the line's difficulty in keeping Delhomme,
"They ran a defense with linebackers as the defensive ends and ends as the (strong-side) and (weak-side) linebackers, and that just creates mismatches with our running backs," said Gross.
"That's simple stuff we should have been fine with."
"It was pretty much on us," added Kalil. "There was nothing we hadn't seen or worked against before. It was just a matter of communicating it out to everybody in a quicker fashion."
That responsibility starts with Kalil's slot.
"I think a lot of times, we're trying to read too much instead of just playing," he said. "Towards the end of the (quarterback's) cadence, we're trying to navigate where everybody's got to go, and it's too late at that point. Now it just turns into a guessing game, where hopefully they know this or that, so that's what happens. Then we got out of rhythm, got into bad situations and we know they're bringing pressure every play.
"Hopefully we won't get in that situation again. I don't think we will. I think we're an experienced enough line to where we can fix those things real quickly and put it behind us."
That experience, and the fact that the starting five up front returned intact, made Sunday's outcome so stunning.
"We claim to be a standard of this team as an offensive line," said Gross, "(but) we've got to do a lot better."
And they know that it's likely the Falcons will try the same tactics Philadelphia employed. Others will do the same, until the line proves it can stop them.
"It's only going to get worse, going to Atlanta," Gross said. "They did a great job pressuring (Miami quarterback Chad) Pennington (on Sunday) and they're going to be loving what they see on film.
"We've made our bed, and now we've got to lay in it. The only thing we can do is come back with some productive drives and not get in that situation again."