Steve Smith spent much of warmups Sunday shaking hands and hugging his former teammates, then spent the game running past them.
Smith promised “blood and guts” for the Week 4 match-up in March after the Baltimore Ravens signed him, one day after the Carolina Panthers cut their all-time receiving leader after 13 seasons in Charlotte.
It was more like shock and awe.
Smith burned his old team for two first-half touchdown catches and his most prolific receiving game in three years to carry the Ravens to a 38-10 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
Smith caught seven passes for 139 yards, his highest yardage total since a 143-yard game in a win against Washington on Oct. 23, 2011. He became the oldest receiver in NFL history to top 400 receiving yards after the first four games.
And while the mercurial Smith was uncharacteristically restrained during the game, he offered up a one-liner and took a jab at his former club at the end of his post-game interview session.
“I’m 35 years old,” Smith said, “and I ran around them boys like they were schoolyard kids.”
The Panthers (2-2) were blown out by an AFC North opponent for the second consecutive week. They were outscored by Pittsburgh and Baltimore (3-1) by a combined 75-29. It’s the first time since 1998 the Panthers have allowed more than 35 points in back-to-back games.
It gets tougher soon for Carolina, which will face Chicago on Sunday, then Cincinnati, the first-place team in the AFC North, in two weeks. The Bengals game is the first of five in a row against playoff teams from last season.
But they’ve got Steve Smith Week out of the way.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he told Smith he was proud of him – and that was before what Smith called a “coaching session.”
“He has a lot of tread on those tires. He’s like one of those big Tonka trucks,” Newton said. “He’s an unbelievably talented player and I respect him so much. I wasn’t surprised at the way he played.
“I’m one of his biggest fans. I wish he was still here, but things happen. I wish him the best.”
Smith’s first touchdown came on a bit of a fluke play, when Joe Flacco’s pass glanced off the fingertips of tight end Owen Daniels and into the hands of Smith, who raced in untouched for a 61-yard score.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera thought second-year cornerback Melvin White should have done a better job staying with Smith, who broke upfield when he thought Flacco was scrambling.
But White’s day got worse. With the Ravens leading 14-7 with two minutes left in the half, Flacco dropped the shotgun snap, picked it up and heaved a jump-pass for Smith down the left sideline.
White, trailing Smith by two steps, grabbed him in the end zone and was called for pass interference.
It didn’t matter. Smith held on to the ball as he went to the ground for a 21-yard touchdown that was upheld on replay review.
Rivera benched White in favor of Josh Norman, who wasn’t interested in discussing Smith afterward.
“It is what it is,” Norman said. “I’m on to Chicago now, man. He did what he did. So what?”
The Panthers’ defensive problems extended beyond their inability to cover Smith, who watched most of the fourth quarter from the sideline.
The pass rush remained nearly nonexistent without defensive end Greg Hardy, who is on a paid leave of absence until at least late November pending his jury trial on domestic violence charges.
The Panthers had no sacks and the front four failed to pressure Flacco, forcing defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to gamble with several blitzes.
The Panthers were burned on a blitz when Flacco lofted a second-quarter pass to Torrey Smith, who got behind White for a 29-yard gain that set up Steve Smith’s touchdown a play later.
With a clean pocket to throw from most of the game, Flacco completed 22 of 31 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted and finished with a franchise-record 137.4 passer rating.
Wes Horton, starting in place of Hardy, said Flacco got rid of the ball quickly and the Panthers’ rush was “a step slow” on several occasions. But Horton thinks the front four can succeed without Hardy, despite evidence to the contrary.
“We’ve got the guys to get there. I know Greg’s presence is definitely missed,” Horton said. “But I believe in every guy on this front, that every guy that gets in the game has an opportunity to get to the quarterback. It’s been two weeks, but I think we’re going to heat it up next week.”
Offensively, the Panthers’ banged-up backfield took another hit when DeAngelo Williams left in the first quarter with a right ankle injury. He sat out the second half and left without comment, wearing a protective boot on his foot.
With Jonathan Stewart and fullback Mike Tolbert already out, rookie Darrin Reaves, an undrafted free agent from Alabama-Birmingham, became the featured back. Reaves carried 12 times for 26 yards.
Backup running back Tauren Poole, who was signed last week, fumbled in the fourth quarter on his first career carry.
It was that kind of day – again – for the Panthers.
Meanwhile, Smith enjoyed a big day against his former teammates, but felt no need to rub it in their faces.
“I just played,” he said. “Honestly, they didn’t deserve anything I had to say that would be derogatory, and I had no need to. They didn’t even deserve for me to spin the ball on them. I just caught it, put it down and got on about my business.
“It was all business, and that’s what it’s always going to be.”