Last week, New England cornerback Aqib Talib promised reporters that he’d have a few words for Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith.
He had more than that Monday night.
The Smith-Talib show provided the most drama on an electric evening in Charlotte as the two did battle during Carolina’s second offensive possession.
Smith caught a 42-yard pass from Cam Newton on the second play of the drive as the Panthers were backed up on their own 12-yard line. Three plays later, Newton hit Smith for a 5-yard gain for a third-down conversion.
As Smith got off the ground to celebrate, Talib held onto Smith’s foot. Smith tried to wiggle free, but Talib held on. The two had to be separated by teammates and officials, and Talib was flagged for unnecessary roughness to put the Panthers in the New England red zone.
Just before Carolina’s first touchdown – a 9-yard Newton pass to Brandon LaFell – Talib got tangled with Smith in the end zone. ESPN cameras showed Talib grabbing Smith’s facemask in the end zone before being separated again.
The two players weren’t without history entering Monday night. Talib played for Tampa Bay from 2008 until mid-2012 before the Patriots picked him up, so the duo met twice each year prior to last season
Smith finished the drive with two catches for 47 yards. The 42-yard catch was the longest of the season for the 13-year veteran.
The tiff wouldn’t end after the second drive, though. Despite Smith going out for a time during the second quarter with a chest injury, he returned in the second half in full pads.
He caught a 16-yard pass from Newton on second-and-9 from the New England 37 with more than four minutes left in the third quarter.
After getting the first down, Smith stayed in bounds a few steps longer as if he was welcoming a hit from Talib. After absorbing the blow, he went by Talib and sauntered back to the huddle with a slight strut.
Smith finished the night with four catches for a team-high 62 yards.