Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith took responsibility for his dropped touchdown pass in Sunday’s 22-6 loss at Arizona – and took repeated shots Monday at one of the officials who worked the game.
Smith was upset with several calls and noncalls in the Cardinals’ defensive backfield, saying their coverage crossed the line from physical to “molesting.”
“I got a (pass interference) penalty, which is very interesting. I got leg-humped and hugged a few times. Being a pretty good flag football player, I think I got my flag pulled on my jersey a few times,” Smith told reporters. “I would say pretty much, I take that one on the chin and just say it was me. I’ve got to play better.”
Smith was covered by Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson most of the game. Peterson, 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds, held Smith to four catches for 60 yards – and, Smith said, held him throughout the game.
Smith had conversations during the game with umpire Dan Ferrell about the Cardinals’ tactics, and said Ferrell was “garbage.”
“I was told by the referee – whatever judge he was, No. 64 (Ferrell). He told me on my route (that) I felt like I got held, where (Peterson) had the back of my jersey and used that to slingshot his way through and bat the ball down. He said he grabbed my jersey, he saw it, but he didn’t think it was enough that changed the course of the route,” Smith said.
“I’ve only been playing football for a little bit, just picked it up. So I said OK. I really believe years past I would’ve went off. But that’s what he felt and that’s what he said, and he repeatedly explained it to me.”
The Peterson pass breakup described by Smith came on a 10-yard route on the second play of the second half.
“It was pass interference in Mexico, Europe, rugby – in pretty much every other sport but in Arizona yesterday,” Smith said. “But then when I pushed off it was pass interference.”
About midway through the third quarter, Smith was whistled for offensive pass interference for pushing off against Peterson on a 12-yard completion. The penalty backed the Panthers up to their 5, and on the next play the Cardinals sacked Cam Newton in the end zone for a safety and a 12-6 lead.
With the Panthers facing a third-and-7 near the end of the third quarter, Smith caught a short pass from Newton, turned upfield and stretched for the first-down marker. Officials initially ruled Smith short of the first down.
But after a coach’s challenge by Ron Rivera, the call was overturned and Smith’s catch went from a 6-yard to an 8-yard gain – good for a first down.
Smith is aware his comments could draw a fine from Commissioner Roger Goodell, but that didn’t stop him from lashing out at Ferrell.
“To be honest, I make enough money where if Roger wants to fine me he can. But I really think that referee probably was the sorriest referee that I have ever met,” Smith said.
“When I dove for the first down (and) he was standing right there, he didn’t even acknowledge – he received a check that day and I hope he feels good. He was terrible. He was garbage.”
Rivera said the Cardinals’ press coverage threw off the timing of the Panthers’ passing attack, and led to some of the seven sacks they allowed. It was the Cardinals’ highest sack total since 1987 – when the franchise was in St. Louis – and tied for the most allowed by the Panthers in Newton’s three seasons.
Smith, the Panthers’ longest-tenured player, blamed himself for Sunday’s loss. He said his dropped pass in the end zone on the first offensive series changed the complexion of the game.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Smith did not deserve all the blame. But Smith, who had another drop on the following series, was resolute.
“I can bear the brunt. I say it’s my fault. If I don’t drop that pass, I think the whole momentum of the game changes,” Smith said. “My dropped pass cost us the game.”
Smith said he would not have handled the drop as well earlier in his career.
“In the past that would have been the beginning of a disastrous game for me. I think emotionally I would have become unraveled,” he said. “Things would have been done on the sideline. But for me, some guys said something like, ‘Hey, we need you.’ I said, ‘All right. Got ya.’ And just focused in on that.”
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