In the three games since his much-publicized blowup directed at the Carolina Panthers front office for allegedly calling him an "unproven" wide receiver, Steve Smith has caught 25 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns and played a huge role in a pair of crucial road wins at Indianapolis and New Orleans.
No Carolina receiver had broken 100 yards receiving in the team's first four games, but Smith has done it three straight weeks. In Carolina's 23-20 overtime win Sunday at New Orleans, Smith had nine of Carolina's 12 receptions, including two that he tipped to himself.
So is there any coincidence that Smith's increased production came after he felt scorned by the Panthers?
"Hey, y'all print it. I'm just doing it," Smith said.
When a reporter suggested the blowup seemed to coincide with his three big games, Smith smiled and replied, "Doesn't it? It looks real close, huh?"
Now in his third and final year of his contract, Smith would become a restricted free agent after the season, meaning they would have the option to make him a tender offer and prevent opposing teams to surrender draft picks if they want to sign Smith. The Panthers would also have the option of matching another team's contract offer.
Since Smith's blowup, contract talks have been put on hold. "I don't have to prove anything," Smith said. "All I have to prove is that we can beat 31 other teams. I'm just worried about playing and making plays every week." And he's doing that.
With Muhsin Muhammad out of the lineup with a concussion, Smith was forced to carry the load on Sunday. The Panthers gave the Saints a heavy dose of Stephen Davis and balanced the attack with several tosses to Smith, some of them on wide receiver screens. They even gave him the ball on a reverse.
Even when Muhammad returns to the lineup this week, Smith remains Jake Delhomme's favorite target. Smith has firmly established himself as the team's new No. 1 receiver. He has twice as many receptions (38) and receiving yards (485) as the elder Muhammad.
--It appeared Panthers running back Stephen Davis might have injured his shoulder on his 34-yard run in overtime which set up John Kasay's game-winning field goal. But Davis said after the game he was fine.
Once again Davis was a big factor for the Panthers late in the game, especially in overtime when he carried three times for 43 yards.
"I felt great in overtime," Davis said. "Every week we practice for a game just like this. Everything I did in overtime was what I did normally. I just thought about not turning it over and just took advantage of a big opportunity."
Said quarterback Jake Delhomme of Davis' big run in overtime: "He busted a nice crease and it's great to be spectator on the field and to watch him keep going."