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.
Smiths 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 thats 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 Ive 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 Carolinas drive and eventually forced San Francisco to use its final timeout before getting the ball back with 1 minute, 2 seconds left.
Smith finished Sundays 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 Wednesdays practice before making a determination on his status for Sundays 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 well see Thursday where he is, Rivera said. If hes really sore then it wont be as rosy an outlook as Id hope. And then well see. Again, were 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 didnt draw flags from referees on Sunday.
Newton took what appeared to be a hit from Cameron Wakes helmet to the chin on Carolinas 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.
Im going to send it in (to the NFL) and ask their opinion and well see, he said. I know this, he bit his tongue and he was bleeding a little bit so Id 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 Kuechlys 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 thats where it looked bad is how much body reacted to being hit.
Said Kuechly after the game: Everything happens so fast you cant really tell, but well 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 Tolberts final rush to the 1 on Carolinas final drive.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9