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Ailing Panthers have major injury problems at QB

Jake Delhomme last week called surgery on his strained right elbow "a last resort."

After experiencing pain trying to throw on Monday, the Carolina Panthers quarterback decided the worst-case scenario couldn't be avoided.

Delhomme will have season-ending ligament-replacement surgery on his elbow next week, leaving the Panthers without their leader on offense and scrambling to find another quarterback.

"Anytime you lose your starting quarterback it's a blow," coach John Fox said.

Originally injured two weeks ago, Delhomme didn't show any improvement when trying to throw Monday. A day earlier he threw briefly on the side while sitting out Carolina's win over the Saints.

"I think (Sunday) he was just trying to see how it felt," Fox said. "Today he really pushed it and experienced some of the same discomfort he had during the Atlanta game."

Delhomme left Bank of America Stadium Monday without speaking to reporters. His agent, Rick Smith, said the recovery time is seven to nine months.

"It certainly gives Jake enough time to rehab it in the offseason and be back for next season," general manager Marty Hurney said.

The Panthers are left in a precarious position, as Delhomme's backup, David Carr, is also banged up.

Carr, signed in the offseason after being a five-year starter in Houston, sustained a back injury against the Saints and his status for Sunday's game at Arizona is uncertain.

"David is definitely sore," Fox said. "He's still being evaluated."

CULPEPPER GETS START: All the secrecy about which quarterback would start for the Oakland Raiders was put to rest this week.

With Josh McCown still limping around in a walking boot and Daunte Culpepper coming off a five-touchdown performance, coach Lane Kiffin saw no reason to keep secret his decision about the starting quarterback.

That's a big change from previous weeks. Kiffin refused to divulge McCown would start the season opener against Detroit, then listed McCown as doubtful the following week in Denver with a foot injury but started him anyway.

Heading into the next week against Cleveland, the questions were about how long McCown would keep the job after struggling the previous week against the Broncos. Culpepper finished the game against the Browns after McCown left at halftime with a broken toe, but Kiffin waited until the Friday before the Miami game before declaring Culpepper the starter.

He announced that Culpepper would start this week's game for Oakland (2-2) against the San Diego Chargers before the first question of the week was even asked.

VIKINGS QB EXPECTED TO RETURN: Tired of more insipid offense toward the end of last season, the Minnesota home crowd shouted for someone different — "We want Jackson!" — during one December defeat.

Well, Vikings fans, get ready for Tarvaris Jackson again this week. Sidelined for the last two games due to a pulled groin muscle, Jackson is expected to return Sunday as the starting quarterback at Chicago.

"I probably don't have all my speed back. It's a little sore. But pretty much when the game comes, the adrenaline will be flowing, so I won't even think about it," Jackson said.

He has a lot of work to do with a still-struggling passing attack that's mostly responsible for his team's 1-3 start. Following a much-needed break in the schedule, the Vikings returned from their bye weekend for practice at Winter Park on Monday afternoon.

BRONCOS LOSE CENTER: Denver Broncos center Tom Nalen tore his right biceps muscle and will be out for the season. The five-time Pro Bowler was injured in the first quarter of a 41-3 loss to San Diego on Sunday, but kept playing.

"We couldn't even run inside running plays, had to run outside running plays," coach Mike Shanahan said Monday. "He didn't have any strength in there. It kind of gives you an idea of what he's made of."

The Broncos also lost tight end Nate Jackson for the season with a torn groin. Cornerback Champ Bailey, who injured his left quadriceps against the Chargers, should be ready for the Pittsburgh game on Oct. 21. The Broncos have a bye this week.

GREEN HAS GRADE-3 CONCUSSION: Miami Dolphins quarterback Trent Green was knocked unconscious with a grade-three concussion — the most severe — and he'll undergo further tests on the career-threatening injury to determine his future. Green has been ruled out of Sunday's game at Cleveland a day after he was injured against Houston. Coach Cam Cameron declined to discuss the possibility the injury will prompt the 37-year-old Green to retire.

"I don't think we really know the full extent, because there are some ongoing tests," Cameron said Monday. "Right now I just think there are too many unknowns."

ALSO: Tampa Bay's Michael Pittman could be sidelined up to two months with an ankle sprain that has the Buccaneers scrambling for experienced help at running back ... Longtime Seattle fullback Mack Strong has a neck injury that will end his career. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said Monday that Strong woke up Sunday feeling tingling in his hands.