Smith's return boosts offense

With All-Pro receiver Steve Smith back in the lineup, the Carolina Panthers are optimistic their offense is about to take off.

Although it was fairly obvious he wasn't 100 percent and that he was limited in his number of reps, Smith still managed to make a major contribution on Sunday, catching seven passes for 112 yards in a potentially season-saving 26-24 win over Tampa Bay.

He provided an enormous boost for an offense that had managed just 19 points in its first two games -- and the best appears yet to come. Despite his 16th 100-yard receiving game of his career, quarterback Jake Delhomme admitted the team was limited in what capacity they could use Smith because of the lingering hamstring problem.

"I don't think we took the chances downfield that we could have had he not been coming off his injury," Delhomme said. "The percentage on how healthy he is, I don't know. But I know he's more cautious than he was a few weeks back. Because when he came back before he was flying and then he strained the other hamstring.

"So we'll see, but I know it's going to improve. He gives us another dimension. And that's not knocking anybody else, but he's one of the top in the league at what he does. I still have a good feel for where he's going to break sometimes and where he's going to be."

Smith wouldn't put a percentage on how he felt either, only to say he felt good enough to play.

There were, however, some uncertain moments.

He said he woke up at 4:46 a.m. at the team hotel Sunday and began pacing his room, still unsure of whether he could play.

"I don't want to be the old Steve Smith," Smith said. "I just want to come out here, be happy to be playing and just focus on playing. Really, all that extra stuff, the touchdown celebrations, it's just out the window. I'm here to play football and I'm happy that my teammates are scoring."

Smith said he wasn't pressured by the coaching staff to play.

"It was all on me," Smith said. "I'm a professional, been in the league six years. They said, 'It's on you.' Just like it's been the last 12 weeks. It's on me."

Smith admitted he was conscious of the hamstring injury throughout the game, so he tried not to make any moves that would re-injure it.

"I just played smart," Smith said. "It's hot, so I just kind of took my time and kind of came in and out so I wouldn't get fatigued and fatigue wouldn't set in and not be a factor in the long haul."

Said coach John Fox: "We're not going to let him play 80 straight plays today, or whatever amount of plays we got offensively. We spelled him, we put a lot on his plate and some of it was mandatory on our part. So he was governed so to speak. I wouldn't say the play types, but as far as the reps."

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