CHARLOTTE — The post-mortem of the Panthers' 30-23 loss to Green Bay on Sunday will reveal a variety of elements that led to the eventual outcome, but wide receiver Steve Smith looked at only one thing.
The Panthers were trailing 17-13 in the third quarter when Smith went rocketing down the sideline in front of the Carolina bench, having hauled in another Cam Newton pass for a 25-yard gain into Green Bay territory.
Smith made the mistake of holding the football away from his body as he strained for more yardage, only to have it slapped loose by Green Bay's Morgan Burnett and recovered by the Packers' do-everything cornerback Charles Woodson at the 32.
"The fumble was a momentum shifter. A mo killer," Smith said. "For me, be accountable to my guys. Just unacceptable and one of those things. Playing a team like that you can't give them any advantages.
"That was a gift. A gift by me. I know people want to say a lot of things. A guy in the fans called me a (name) so I decided to (tell) him what I thought of his comment. I know they're going to call in the radio stations and say get him out of here. I'm going to line up next week and try to do what I do best - make plays and not make plays for the other team like I did today."
The fumble spoiled another otherwise big day for Smith, who has quickly become Newton's primary downfield target. Newton targeted Smith 13 times, completing six for 165 yards, including a 62-yarder late in the fourth quarter that set up Carolina's final touchdown.
Smith was one of the fire-
starters in the Panthers' scorching start, which produced a 13-0 led 12 seconds into the second quarter. On the Panthers' opening possession, he caught consecutive passes from Newton for 15 and 12 yards, bouncing up, spinning the football as he's so often done.
He also had a 21-yard reception late in the first quarter, setting up a second Olindo Mare field goal. The drawback was the Panthers' failure to convert consecutive trips inside the 20 into touchdowns early in the game, settling for field goals that kept the Packers within two touchdowns.
They were failures that ultimately cost the Panthers.
"We definitely have to improve on that, whether it's self-inflicted wounds or executing better," Smith said.
Still, the Panthers passed for 432 yards, the second consecutive week in which they've been over 400 yards. It took them until the sixth game last season before they had as many passing yards as they've put up in two games this season. Smith has 14 receptions in two games, including two of 60 yards or longer.
While there are questions about the running game, which produced 18 yards on 11 carries between DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, it's obvious the focus of the offensive game plan has shifted from the ground to the air.
"This is the offense," Smith said. "The offense of years past, you guys asked me in years past if I should be more involved and I would say yes. I'm involved. I had some good blocks and ran some routes. This offense is a chunk play offense. It's going to pass first, run second. That's who we are. We're going to keep doing that.
"It's been one of the best passing games ever stepped on this field. It hasn't been this good in a long time. We have room to improve and we will improve. We're going to go back to work and work harder. I know I can't give gifts like that."
At 0-2, the Panthers have been a surprise offensively, getting the passing production they have from Newton in his first two NFL games. He made mistakes Sunday, throwing critical interceptions, but he has surpassed expectations and created a sense of optimism around the rebuilding Panthers.
Smith, however, is a bottom-line player, and he doesn't like the bottom line.
"We need to win," he said.