Unofficially, it’s Steve Smith Week in Charlotte.
Smith, who spent 13 years as a Carolina Panthers receiver, is now with the Baltimore Ravens, who host Carolina on Sunday. And try as they might, Panthers coaches won’t be able to avoid that storyline.
“Steve’s playing very well for them, but it’s going to be the Carolina Panthers versus the Baltimore Ravens,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
Both of those statements are true. He has 290 receiving yards and one touchdown – on 31 targets – through three games for the Ravens. He still has ‘it,’ as he’s been quick to point out in multiple interviews and on the sideline for TV cameras.
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Smith’s skills aren’t the reason he’s no longer with the Panthers, the team’s desire to hand the locker room over to quarterback Cam Newton and allow the younger players to lead the team without incident is.
Smith has fit in well with the Ravens, and his 290 receiving yards not only lead the team but more than double the next closest receiver.
His 32-yard catch in the final minute of Sunday’s win against the Browns put the Ravens in scoring position.
“We look forward to the challenge,” said Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, whose defense gave up 37 points to the Steelers on Sunday night. “We’ve got the utmost respect for him. We’ve got our work cut out for us this week. It’s another good offense, in their stadium.”
Not only will physical defense be important for the Panthers against the Ravens and Smith, but also remaining disciplined. Ever the competitor, Smith knows what buttons he could push with Carolina’s defenders, and the Panthers must keep their cool.
“As a team you have to be a disciplined football team,” McDermott said. “We’ve got to play whistle to whistle and keep it that. And let our actions speak for us. We expect a physical football game. That’s what we expect. Steve’s no different.”
Davis injured: Veteran linebacker Thomas Davis has an apparent leg injury, though Rivera wouldn’t go into much detail about it.
Davis pulled up lame on a fourth-quarter Steelers’ rush. He grabbed the back of his left leg and walked off the field. He did not return to the game.
Davis has undergone three surgeries to repair the ACL in his right knee. Rivera said Davis’ injury did not concern his right ACL and said it was nothing “catastrophic.”
He didn’t seem himself during the game, though. Normally flying around the field, Davis didn’t fit the run well and was in pursuit of Steelers more than he was tackling them. He had three tackles Sunday night, which tied for his fewest since midway through the 2012 season.
Brown a little blue: Rookie returner Philly Brown wanted to apologize to his teammates after his fumbled punt turned into a touchdown for Pittsburgh.
Rivera told him not to.
“That’s not why we lost the football game,” Rivera said. “You win and lose as a team. You’ve got to understand that, and I think he does. He’s going to come back and do the best he can.”
Brown had seven catches for 66 yards for his first career receptions, but it’s the fumbled punt that haunted him. Rivera said the team will continue to evaluate the returner position, but he again made it clear Brown gives the team the best opportunity at returning kicks and punts.
“If you want an explosive guy back there, a guy that give you a home run, Philly’s the guy,” Rivera said. “We can’t put ourselves in a position to fail. We’ve got to put ourselves in a position to succeed.”