Steve Smith-Malcolm Jenkins Brawl: Panthers WR Shows Team Is Ready to Compete

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Steve Smith-Malcolm Jenkins Brawl: Panthers WR Shows Team Is Ready to Compete
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The 2011 season has been one of moral victories for the Carolina Panthers, though Steve Smith took more than just comfort in knowing he and his younger teammates could compete with the NFL's best.

The veteran wide receiver tacked on a few swings at New Orleans Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins for good measure after hauling in a 54-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to put the score at 10-6.

Smith's swipes weren't exactly unwarranted, though. Saints safety Roman Harper prompted the pow wow when he gave Smith a dirty deck after the receiver opted for a slow waltz into the end zone.

Though Smith's response didn't do much to help the Panthers notch their second win of the season, it demonstrated a certain measure of leadership and showed, as did the scoreboard, that Carolina isn't going to back down to the big, bad bullies of the NFL.

Don't let their 1-4 record fool you: The Panthers are much improved from last year's 2-14 squad. They've taken each of their five opponents this season down to the wire, falling short by an average of just 5.5 points in each of their four defeats so far. That includes a loss at Arizona in Week 1 on a fluky pick six, a near-upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, a five-point failing at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears and, of course, Sunday's 30-27 decision to the division-rival Saints.

Who won Sunday's "brawl"?

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But Carolina's finer play this season is about more than just close calls against quality opponents. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton has injected new life into a once-moribund franchise, demonstrating the sort of leadership under center that the Panthers have lacked since their magical run to the Super Bowl XXXVIII.

No individual has benefited more from Newton's surprising brilliance than Smith, who is enjoying a resurgent season, to say the least. With Sunday's performance against the Saints, Smith upped his season totals to 609 yards and three touchdowns on 27 catches. In just five games, then, Smith has already surpassed his production from 14 games in 2010.

Look beyond the numbers, though, and you'll see in Smith an 11-year former All-Pro whose fighting spirit has been rejuvenated and reinvigorated by a 22-year-old kid fresh out of college.

That much was evident on Sunday, when Smith mixed it up with Malcolm Jenkins. Where once Smith and the Panthers would've backed down, would've resigned themselves to mediocrity, on Sunday they demonstrated just the sort of pride and self-respect that, sooner or later, will yield plenty of real, tangible victories to go along with the loads of moral ones.

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