We’ve covered some very memorable moments thus far. Now, it’s time to cover what really is a collection of moments.
The decision here to include this as the number five “moment” was made because what we witnessed was one of the great individual performances in team history and perhaps one of the greatest in league playoff history.
#5. 2005 Playoffs – Steve Smith versus the Giants, Bears and Seahawks, January 8-22, 2006
We already knew how good Steve Smith was. Or did we?
From his second year in the league, he had been showing what he could do. For four years we had witnessed Smith’s abilities – racking up 251 regular-season receptions to go with 3605 yards and 22 touchdowns. He had shown an ability to take over games and personally make a mockery of opposing defenses.
Entering the playoffs after an 11-5 season, the Carolina Panthers were the fifth seeded team in the conference having finished second in the NFC South behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That meant no first-round bye. They would have to play in the Wild Card Round.
They would be matched up against the New York Giants in the Meadowlands.
This game wasn’t even close.
The Panthers defense would hold Tiki Barber to 41-yards rushing while the offense would use five consecutive third-down conversions in the first half to chew up 20 minutes off the game clock. DeShaun Foster put up 151 yards rushing.
But this day belonged to Steve Smith. Coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he had 103 catches for 1563 yards and 12 TD’s, Smith would not have a drop off in production. Against New York he would account for 10 grabs for 84 yards.
The game would end in a 23-0 Carolina victory but Smith would post the only two touchdowns scored on the day. One was a 22-yard TD catch and the other was a showcase of his speed on a 12-yard reverse. He was simply unstoppable.
Maybe the Chicago Bears would have an answer for Smith the following week in the NFC Divisional Playoff matchup.
The stakes grow with each round of playoffs and in this case Steve Smith’s game would be taken to the next level.
Carolina’s first score came in the first quarter. Wouldn’t you know it? It was a Jake Delhomme pass to Steve Smith covering 58 yards. John Kasay would put up two field goals making the score 13-0 before Chicago could answer.
In the third quarter, with the game getting tighter at 16-14, the Panthers would extend their lead. And again it was Jake to Steve. This time from 39 yards and the lead was back to 9.
The Bears would continue to fight back but the Delhomme to Smith connection was simply too much as the pair connected 12 times for 218 yards and 2 TD’s.
It was off to the NFC Championship in Seattle to face the Seahawks.
The home team would come in relatively fresh while the Panthers would be without DeShaun Foster and Nick Goings. Carolina could get nothing going on offense the entire game. The Seahawks defense would blanket Steve Smith effectively removing him from the game.
With the game and the season slipping away and Seattle leading 17-0, Smith would provide a glimmer of hope.
He positioned himself deep downfield to return a punt. Everyone in the stadium had to know that Mike Holmgren would elect to punt away from him but instead they would punt it to one of the best playmakers in the game.
There are Carolina fans who still swear that they knew that Steve Smith was going to take that punt to the house – I’m included. The Seahawks had given knew life to the Panthers because this play was absolutely no contest.
Steve Smith, doing what he had done all season and especially all during these playoffs, raced past the defense for 59 yards and the touchdown.
The Panthers would prove to be too beaten and too bruised to hold up to the Seattle onslaught, however and would head back to Charlotte with a 34-14 loss.
What had been established in these three games was that Steve Smith was no fluke. He could play against the best teams in the league and produce at anytime from anywhere on the field. Fans from New York and Chicago will never forget this guy, that’s a fact.
In three playoff games, Steve Smith had amassed 27 catches, 335 yards, 3 TD’s, 4 rushes, 38 yards and 1 TD. The message was loud and clear. The best receiver in the league resided in Carolina!