Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s first pass Sunday’s game went to Steve Smith, for 6 yards.
Four of his next 10 passes went to Smith. Three were caught, for 68 yards.
Of Newton’s final 14 throws, zero targeted Smith.
Smith, listed as questionable going into Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the 49ers, showed no signs of trouble from a knee sprain suffered three weeks ago.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he had no doubt Smith was going to play, but the 13th-year wide receiver might have surprised San Francisco with just how effective he was.
“I surprised some of y’all,” Smith said to the media. “I think I surprised them a bit. … I listened to everything (the trainers) told me to do and did it. I did it with enthusiasm so I could be out here to help my team win and to put us in the best situation.
“That was my job and I felt like that I did it.”
Smith finished with four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown, all of which came in the first half. Then, he disappeared.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the 49ers adjusted by giving more attention to Smith in the second half. Smith, who in two quarters of play had more receiving yards than he totaled in an entire game during the 2013 season, agreed.
“They went man coverage in the first half, didn’t work out too well, so they adjusted,” Smith said. “A little help over the top. Some people may say no that’s not the case but …”
San Francisco effectively negated Carolina’s top receiving threat in the most important game for the Panthers franchise in five years. But Smith didn’t appear sour when asked why the ball didn’t come his way in the second half.
“I’m not going to go there,” he said. “I could really care less right now. It’s just one of those things where … they did a lot of things in the second half to try to take me away. That happens.”
He spent time in the locker room after the game with two of his three children. He reflected on the season, calling it a success, and confirmed that he plans to be back with the Panthers next season.
Smith hasn’t slept much lately, he said. Since spraining his knee against New Orleans in Week 16, he said he’s been getting up around 4 a.m. every day. He predicted that Sunday night would be the best night of sleep he had gotten since the injury.
He’s going to take a week, maybe two, to just get away, though he didn’t detail what his plans are. Then, he’ll experience an offseason that won’t be as typical as the others.
His wife, Angie, is pregnant with their fourth child, so he wants to be home for that. He’ll have to rehab his knee, but he did not say if he’ll need surgery.
But even with the finality of Sunday, Smith said he wasn’t disappointed. He was heartbroken.
“There’s nothing disappointing about seeing how hard my guys, we, worked,” he said. “You’re never disappointed in your work. If you go out there and you play and you do your job, you’re never ashamed of the job you’ve done.”
Smith went to Newton on the sideline near the end of the game and spoke to the quarterback. He didn’t share what he told Newton, saying it was private.
More than an hour after the game, Newton shared one of his regrets from the game.
“Steve had his opportunities, he did, and he’s been doing that his whole career,” Newton said. “And I wish I could have gotten it to him more.”
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