Healthy Smith leaves Ravens feeling ill

Panthers 4-0 since receiver's return

Ravens Gameday

October 16, 2006|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Reporter

Attach an asterisk to the Carolina Panthers' 4-2 record.

The Panthers lost their first two games, but they're unbeaten since wide receiver Steve Smith returned from hamstring problems.

"It's like taking Michael Vick away from Atlanta, like taking Peyton [Manning] away from the Colts," quarterback Jake Delhomme said, talking about what Smith means to Carolina. "He gets other teams to account for him on every play. I'm glad he's on our side."

Smith tormented Samari Rolle and the Ravens, as he turned eight catches into 189 yards, the most productive receiving day against the Ravens since Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith had 291 yards on 15 catches in the second game of 2000.

The Ravens surrendered more yards to Smith than they did Tampa Bay and Oakland in weeks 1 and 2, when Smith wore civilian clothes and squirmed through losses to Atlanta and Minnesota.

Heading into yesterday, Carolina ranked a deceptive 25th in the NFL in passing. The combination of Smith and Keyshawn Johnson had been the league's best since his return, but the Panthers didn't think Smith was really back until last Wednesday's practice.

"He did something I hadn't seen in a while, he opened it up," Delhomme said. "It wasn't a long, downfield play; it was something in a seam on the outside. He hit another gear. It was good for him mentally."

Last season, Smith became the first since 1992 to lead the NFL in receptions (103), receiving yards (1,563) and touchdown catches (12). Yesterday, he got back in the hunt for those honors in a hurry.

Coming in, the Panthers had been miserable on third downs, but Smith converted their first attempt yesterday. His 32-yard catch on Carolina's second possession set up its first points, and he was unstoppable in the fourth quarter.

Delhomme and Smith improvised on plays that gained 31 and 18 yards during the 91-yard field-goal drive that made it a two-possession game. After Mark Clayton's second lucky-bounce touchdown trimmed the difference to two points, Delhomme and Smith hooked up for what turned out to be the winning touchdown on a one-play drive.

Delhomme, who threw for 365 yards, the fifth most ever against the Ravens, had overthrown a wide-open Johnson in the third quarter, and wanted to go back that way on first down from the Panthers' 28. Chris McAlister pressed up on Johnson, however, so Delhomme looked left and saw Smith 5 yards behind Rolle.

Smith slowed to collect what he called a "quail," gathered it in on the Ravens' 30 and ran in for a 72-yard catch and run. Beaten for the umpteenth time, Rolle removed his helmet and slammed it to the turf.

His return work made Smith the only 2001 rookie elected to the Pro Bowl. Two years later, he helped the Panthers get to the Super Bowl, and Carolina is beginning to fulfill the preseason buzz that it can get back there.

It was Smith's second visit to Baltimore this year: He was the Panthers' representative at the Ed Block Courage Awards last winter. He weighs 185 pounds, but is only 5 feet 9.

"It's like my baby boy Boston, each week I'm learning something new," Smith said of the youngest of his two sons. "I'm growing up. I'm waiting for my growth spurt too."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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