Mr. Smith comes to town

The Panthers are excited about getting back the services of WR Steve Smith, who has had big games against the Vikings in the past. But, from the Panthers' perspective, they are happy to have gone 2-0 without him.

The Carolina Panthers went 2-0 without their star wide receiver, but were more than happy to welcome him back on Monday following a two-game suspension.

Steve Smith, a three-time Pro Bowler who has scored 29 touchdowns over the past three seasons, rejoined his teammates for team meetings. He'll be reinstated to the 53-man roster Wednesday.

Although Smith was in the building on Monday, coach John Fox said he didn't get a chance to talk with Smith in person. However, he did talk to him by phone.

"He's ready to roll," Fox said. "He's excited to be back. And he's excited we're 2-0."

Despite punching teammate Ken Lucas last month in training camp, Smith has made amends with his teammates, including Lucas, and the incident is now viewed as water under the bridge.

Fox said he doesn't feel Smith needs to address the team again.

"No, I think all of that is over in my mind and in the team's mind. I don't know about (the media's) mind, but it's over with us," Fox said. "All the talk has been done."

Fox said he's proud of how his players handled the situation as professionals and feels as though they may come out better in the long run because of it.

"Some of these things make you better and stronger," Fox said. "With the type of guys we have in the locker room, I think an unfortunate incident is made into a positive. The fact we were able to win two games without him makes us all better, him included."

To a man, players say they want Smith back.

And clearly they need him back.

Perhaps nobody is more anxious for Smith's return than Jake Delhomme, who was limited to 128 yards passing on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, all but 24 of those coming after halftime. Carolina gained just 47 yards in the first half on Sunday.

But Smith's return will benefit more than Delhomme.

Without anyone to stretch the field, the Bears regularly stacked eight men at the line of scrimmage. That probably won't happen when Smith returns this week to face the Minnesota Vikings and if it does, the Panthers will welcome it because it will allow for more big play opportunities in the passing game.

Smith commands so much attention on the field he makes everyone else's job easier.

Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett will see far fewer double teams. And with opposing safeties having to pay attention to Smith downfield, that means fewer defenders at the line of scrimmage which aids the offensive line and running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

"For us to go out there and win two games without Steve Smith, who is the best player on this team, that speaks wonders for this ball club," Harris said. "When he gets back we are just going to be that much better."

In the meantime, Delhomme was ecstatic to be 2-0 after two weeks without Smith.

"It's huge. I've said it all along," Delhomme said. "We need to win without Steve. I mean that is the biggest compliment in the best way possible. We need to win without him because he's going to give us a chance."

Added Fox: "He's been in communication with our players and he's been a part of the team. I think they're excited to have him back.... He's arguably one of the better receivers in the game. He's fast, he's quick and he's strong. He's tough. He brings a lot to the table."

NOTES

  • To beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers first needed to overcome a frustrating penalty-plagued first half. The Panthers offense killed itself with false start penalties in the first half, tagged with one in each of its first five possessions. The guilty parties were Jeff Otah, Jeff King, Dante Rosario, Brad Hoover and Jordan Gross.

    "We were just so inept on offense in the first half," said quarterback Jake Delhomme. "We didn't get anything going. We'd jump off-sides. Every time we made a play, there was something."

    What was happening is the Bears were regularly bringing eight men up to the line of scrimmage and messing with the Panthers cadence.

    "We had to hone in, listen to the cadence and listen to what's going on," Delhomme said. "They are making some calls late in the cadence, so be it. Hone in on my voice and just one play at a time. I think we kind of did that and that was the biggest thing."

  • The Panthers rallied after linebacker Lance Briggs took what was perceived to be a dirty shot on quarterback Jake Delhomme in the third quarter.

    "You don't wake up a sleeping giant," said safety Chris Harris. "I was pretty upset and it became more than a game after that. We wanted to get back at them because we are not going to take that. We are going to protect our quarterback. He is one of our leaders and we are not going to let anybody get a shot like that on him."

    Added Fox: "I know my energy went up. I'm sure it was a little more widespread than that. That's what football is all about."

    On Monday, Fox was asked about his thoughts on the hit.

    "I'm not able to have an opinion only because they get in your pocket," Fox said referring to the NFL rule that prohibits coaches from talking about officiating lest they get fined. "But it's something we'll address and look at and go from there."

    When told by a reporter he's able to have an opinion, Fox replied, "Yeah, but I'm going to keep it to myself."

  • With the Panthers down 17-6, Chris Harris popped the ball loose from tight end Greg Olsen - his second fumble of the game - in the third quarter leading to a Carolina touchdown.

    "On tackles like that, that's an easy one, when I'm tackling from the side," Harris said. "Most ball carriers will try to give you a stiff arm or something or are not paying attention. It's kind of like when you are playing basketball with lazy defense and the guys tries to poke it out from behind. Those are the easy ones in football."

  • Jonathan Stewart gave the Panthers a huge boost in the second half. After carrying just once in the first half, Stewart ran 13 times for 76 yards against a stingy Bears defense in the second half. He seemed a little better suited to run against the Bears physical defense than the smaller DeAngelo Williams.

    "Jonathan ran hard," Fox said. "It's a guy who we are just learning about. Last week he did some good things. We didn't get a chance to look at him a whole lot in the preseason. I think he'll get better every week. He's a very powerful guy and a hard runner.

  • CB Chris Gamble played a really strong game against Chicago, registering eight tackles and breaking up two passes.

  • QB Jake Delhomme engineered his 15th fourth quarter or overtime comeback against the Bears by going 3-for-3 on the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. It marked the second straight week Delhomme had led a game-winning drive to bring Carolina back.

  • MLB Jon Beason was terrific on Sunday with 11 tackles, one pass breakup and one fumble recovery.

  • RB Jonathan Stewart had a great day with 76 yards rushing and two scores in the second half. Could he be Carolina's new starting running back. We'll have to wait and see, but the money is on DeAngelo Williams starting this week. Why change something that is not broken?


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