Panthers’ Smith made it a tough day for Dre

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 15, 2008

By David Shaw
CHARLOTTE óIf Dre Bly was looking for trouble, he came to the right place Sunday.
The last thing the 10th-year Denver cornerback needed was four quarters of the Gospel according to Steve Smith. But that’s exactly what he got in the Panthers’ 30-10 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
“They did a good job moving him around and finding him,” Bly said after he and rookie teammate Josh Barrett were burned more times than a short-order cook. “Once they figured out what we were doing, they started feeding him the ball. And he’s one of the best once he gets it.”
Smith caught nine passes from quarterback Jake Delhomme for 165 yards and scored his sixth touchdown in the opening period. But afterward, the eighth-year veteran hung out his “Do Not Disturb” sign.
“Not today,” he told reporters while dressing. “I ain’t talking to nobody.”
Smith has become as famous for his moods as his moves. That didn’t make Bly’s day any easier.
“We had different calls to try to take Steve away,” the former North Carolina Tar Heel standout explained. “He just did a great job finding openings. He’s one of the best and very well-respected in this league.”
Carolina’s run-first game plan changed almost immediately when the Broncos 4-4 defense foiled its first rushing attempts. Trailing 7-0 in the opening quarter, the Panthers called Smith’s number three times on their first drive. He made three receptions worth 66 yards ó the last 15 on screen pass to the right side that Smith carried into the end zone. Previously, he snagged a 24-yard pickup on a third-and-2 play followed by a 27-yard gainer in a crowd near the left sideline.
“That’s Steve Smith ó and that’s what he does,” said Panthers’ running back DeAngelo Williams. “He’s a very explosive receiver. And he’s deadly when he gets the ball.”
Smith had six catches in the first half ó the longest went for 38 yards across the middle ó as Carolina built a 20-10 lead.
“He’s a gamer,” said Denver linebacker Jamie Winborn. “You have to respect a guy like that.”
Smith, who missed the season’s first two games due to a team-imposed suspension, is quietly having another All-Pro season. He’s made 70 receptions for 1,240 yards ó averaging just better than 100 yards per game.
“Steve Smith always makes his plays,” said Denver cornerback Josh Bell, a rookie out of Baylor. “He’s a Pro Bowl kind of receiver and he’s probably a future Hall of Famer. What he does best is capitalize on your mistakes.”
And there were too many of them for Bly.
“When he was lined up out wide, he didn’t really hurt us,” Bly said. “But when he got tight in the formation, when they started moving him around, he found his creases. And yeah, that hurt us.”