By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – Perhaps the best player in Carolina Panthers history
will be suited up for the other side on Sunday.
Wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr., who finished his 13-year career in the Tar
Heel State as the Panthers’ all-time leader in receptions (836), receiving
yards (12,197) and touchdowns (75) is now a Baltimore Raven and he will be
facing off against his old mates for the first time when the Panthers visit
Charm City on Sunday.
“I never really imagined that I’d be in a different uniform,” Smith said. “I
never really thought that I’d be playing against the Panthers.”
Smith has hit the ground running in Baltimore, compiling 18 receptions for 290
yards, both franchise bests through three games. Meanwhile, his replacement
with the Panthers, Kelvin Benjamin, also is excelling, leading all NFL rookies
with 253 receiving yards.
Smith was targeted seven times against Cleveland in Week 3, snaring five balls
for 101 yards but the Ravens still needed Justin Tucker to boot a 32-yard
field goal as time expired o beat the Browns, 23-21, in a tight AFC North
The Ravens had settled for a 21-yard Tucker kick with five minutes remaining
to pull within one, then forced a pair of three-and-outs to get the ball back
with 1:58 to go. Joe Flacco connected with Smith for a 32-yard pickup to set
up Tucker’s kick, which provided the sixth and final lead change in the back-
“It was for moments like that we brought Steve Smith in here,” Ravens
coach John Harbaugh said of his prized offseason acquisition.
The statistics were virtually identical for both offenses, with Baltimore
gaining 377 yards, just two more than the Brian Hoyer-led Browns.
Flacco finished with 217 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while
Lorenzo Taliaferro rushed for 91 yards and a score on 18 carries. Taliaferro
and Justin Forsett, who added 63 yards on the ground, carried the load in the
backfield because Bernard Pierce sat out with a thigh injury.
The Panthers, meanwhile, tasted defeat for the first time in 2014 during Week
3, getting trounced by Pittsburgh, 37-19.
Cam Newton completed 24-of-35 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown as the
Panthers fell for the first time in nine regular-season games at home.
Already thin at running back with DeAngelo Williams (hamstring) inactive for
the second straight week, Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart suffered a right knee
sprain and fullback Mike Tolbert left the game with a left leg injury, too,
later revealed to be a hairline fracture, as the Panthers ran for just 42
“We didn’t block very well up front and we didn’t stop the run very well,”
said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.
The Panthers and Ravens have met just four times previously with Carolina
holding a 3-1 advantage. Baltimore’s lone win came in the last outing, however
when Flacco passed for 301 yards in a 37-13 triumph back on Nov. 21, 2010.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Smith is known as one of the NFL’s fiercest and toughest competitors. Some
have even called the undersized 5-foot-9, 190-pound player a bully in a big
man’s game because of his ultra-physical style of play. And he has plenty to
play for this week.
“I think for every man that tries to earn a living despite the amount of
money, you always try to go to work doing (more), always trying to give them
more,” Smith said. “And when things don’t work well, unless you obviously hate
your job, nobody walks out going, ‘Yay, I just got fired.”
Of course things worked out very well overall for Smith in Carolina but the
fact he’ll come into this contest with a chip on his shoulder is something
that shouldn’t be underestimated and the Ravens now have that intangible on
their side while Carolina continues to feel its way without what was
unquestionably a locker-room leader.
“We all know who Steve is and we know what Steve’s done,” Rivera said. “He’s
had a great career, he’s assimilated very well to Baltimore, he’s doing a
great job for them. But after that, we’re playing the Ravens.”
Rivera’s biggest concern outside of Smith is generating some kind of rushing
attack because the Panthers are 29th in the NFL, averaging just 72.3 yards on
the ground. Meanwhile, Carolina is now without Tolbert, who was placed on
short-term injured reserve this week, and Stewart.
Williams, however, is expected to return after missing two games and Newton is
always a threat especially as he gets more comfortable after missing the
season opener with a rib injury.
“We have to do a better job of executing on all phases: running the football,
passing and having longer and methodical drives,” Newton said. ”
The Ravens, however, generally stop the run well and are currently allowing
just under 90 yards on the ground per game.
“They’re physical, they want to run the ball,” Harbaugh said. “They’re a big
challenge for us, they’re probably going to watch the tape and think they can
run the ball on us.”
Offensively, Baltimore is dealing with the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta and
left tackle Eugene Monroe. Pitta is gone for the year with a dislocated hip
while Monroe is sidelined for at least a few weeks following knee surgery.
It’s not like the Panthers thought Smith was a bad player when they decided to
move on. It was just a nod to the fact that he is 35 years old and the adage
that giving up on a player a year early is better than giving up on him a year
That said Smith has plenty to play for this week and expect the fiery leader
to drag his new teammates across the finish line.
“I expect Steve Smith to play the way Steve Smith plays, and that’s all I’m
worried about,” Rivera said. “The truth of the matter is it’s the Carolina
Panthers versus the Baltimore Ravens, and that’s going to be my approach and
that’s the way I’m looking at it.”
Sports Network predicted outcome: Ravens 23, Panthers 20