'Ageless' Steve Smith still clutch for Carolina Panthers

jjones@charlotteobserver.comNovember 25, 2013 


Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith (89), who surpassed 12,000 yards in career receiving on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, is still making clutch catches at age 34.

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Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Monday that late Sunday night, after the Carolina Panthers had defeated the Miami Dolphins 20-16 in Miami, he heard a national sports pundit call Steve Smith “ageless.”

He found the term appropriate for Smith, 34. The 13-year veteran receiver rarely shows his age when a big catch needs to be made.

Smith’s 19-yard gain on a pass from Cam Newton on fourth-and-10 from the Carolina 20 to continue what would be a game-winning drive.

“Steve likes to say in big games, big players make big plays,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “And that’s true. Steve is one of those guys.

“He and Cam have developed that kind of rapport that they work together. When it came down to it and it came to clutch time, the 49ers game he made as clutch a catch as I’ve been around. And this game, making this clutch catch, was huge.”

In Week 10 against San Francisco, Smith hauled in a 9-yard catch on third down near the two-minute warning in Panthers’ territory. The play extended Carolina’s drive and eventually forced San Francisco to use its final timeout before getting the ball back with 1 minute, 2 seconds left.

Smith finished Sunday’s game with five catches for a team-high 69 yards. He also became the 22nd player in NFL history with at least 12,000 career receiving yards.

He has 12,033 receiving yards on 823 catches.

Johnson may practice: After missing his first game since the 2011 season finale, Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson is expected to be back on the practice field Wednesday.

Rivera, ever the optimist on his players’ injuries, said he wants to see how Johnson reacts to Wednesday’s practice before making a determination on his status for Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers.

Johnson, who has 8.5 sacks this season, suffered a sprained MCL when he was leg-whipped during the Monday night game against New England on Nov.18. He did not practice last week or travel with the team to Miami.

“Wednesday will be a big day for us, then we’ll see Thursday where he is,” Rivera said. “If he’s really sore then it won’t be as rosy an outlook as I’d hope. And then we’ll see. Again, we’re going to be smart. It really is about going forward, because we have an opportunity to go forward.”

The Panthers struggled to contain Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill inside the pocket at times during the game. Mario Addison started in place of Johnson and finished with one sack and four quarterback hits. Frank Alexander recorded three tackles.

Rivera on no-calls: Two seemingly helmet-to-helmet plays didn’t draw flags from referees on Sunday.

Newton took what appeared to be a hit from Cameron Wake’s helmet to the chin on Carolina’s first offensive play from scrimmage. The impact caused Newton to bite his tongue, and later he was seen spitting blood. Rivera said he would have liked to have seen a flag on the play.

“I’m going to send it in (to the NFL) and ask their opinion and we’ll see,” he said. “I know this, he bit his tongue and he was bleeding a little bit so I’d like to think there was a reason why.”

Up 13-3 with just more than a minute left in the first half, Miami had a chance for a touchdown on a pass to Rishard Matthews that was broken up by Luke Kuechly.

On slow-motion replay, it appeared that Kuechly’s helmet made contact with Matthews’ helmet on the pass breakup. A flag was initially thrown, then picked up by the officials. Rivera said that was the correct call.

“Luke hit him in the chest,” he said. “He folded over and I think that’s where it looked bad is how much body reacted to being hit.”

Said Kuechly after the game: “Everything happens so fast you can’t really tell, but we’ll take a look (Monday) and see what it looks like.”

Injury notes: Linebacker Thomas Davis dislocated his finger early in the first quarter, and the injury was so bad that it broke the skin and required stitches during and after the game. Davis still played all 63 defensive snaps.

Defensive end Greg Hardy also had a hand injury, and he tweeted a photo after the game that showed his thumb bandaged and said he played 21/2 quarters with his thumb “torn open.”

Free safety Mike Mitchell told reporters after the game he played injured during the second half and would have an MRI on his lower-body injury on Monday. Rivera said he did not know of an injury to Mitchell.

Fullback Mike Tolbert had a leg wrapped after the game Sunday, and Rivera said it may have been because of dehydration. Rivera called the injury “soreness,” and he thought it developed on Tolbert’s final rush to the 1 on Carolina’s final drive.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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