One elusive cat

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 18, 2006



By Cold, Hard Football Facts senior writer John Dudley
 
In its brief, 11-year history as an NFL franchise, Carolina has already compiled an impressive list of achievements. Now 6-2 in the playoffs, the Panthers own the league's best postseason winning percentage (.750) and will be playing in their third NFC championship game on Sunday when they face the Seahawks in Seattle. Head coach John Fox, who was hired in 2002 following a dismal 1-15 campaign, has posted a 41-29 career record including the playoffs, and his team stands a game away from its second Super Bowl in three years. Quarterback Jake Delhomme has become the highest-rated and least-intercepted postseason passer (among those with 150 attempts) in league history.
 
While coaches and quarterbacks tend to get the lion's share of attention, the Cold, Hard Football Facts give fair treatment to all breeds of cats. Of course, none of them ever gets stroked unnecessarily. We expose the preening pets of the "pundits" and heap praise on the less-publicized producers. And, when two of Carolina's cheerleading TopCats show a fondness for the fur of fellow felines, well, we diligently cover that story too.
 
On the gridiron this season, no defense has been able to cage Panthers wideout Steve Smith. He led the NFL with 1,563 receiving yards and shared the league lead for receptions (103, tied with Larry Fitzgerald) and receiving touchdowns (12, tied with Marvin Harrison). Since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, only two other players have captured receiving's "triple crown": Jerry Rice in 1990 and Sterling Sharpe in 1992.
 
Another testament to Smith's rare game-changing ability is that he was the league's best after the catch, racking up 810 yards (an average of 7.9). He showed catlike quickness whenever he was in the open field, whether it was on a pass, run or punt return. By taking an end-around 20 yards for a score in Week 15, he topped all receivers in total TDs with 13. Perhaps most remarkable is that Smith was coming off an injury, having missed all but one game last year when he broke his leg in the final minutes of the season opener against Green Bay.
 
Despite Smith's categorical success, the pigskin public has generally failed to recognize how truly special he has been this season. He was named co-winner of the AP's Comeback Player of the Year award, sharing the honor with New England's Tedy Bruschi, but Smith didn't receive a single vote in the league's Most Valuable Player balloting. Yet it is doubtful that the Panthers would have sniffed the playoffs without him.
 
On the grand catwalk of the postseason, Smith has been a model of consistency, forcing his doubters to take notice. In road wins the past two weeks against the Giants and Bears, he has produced 340 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Facing Chicago's vaunted defense last Sunday, he had a career-high 218 yards receiving, and his 12 catches were one short of the NFL postseason record.
 
With that performance, Smith has rightly been acknowledged for amassing the fourth-most receiving yards in a playoff game. But only the Cold, Hard Football Facts scratch below the surface. Counting his rushing total, Smith is actually tied for second place all-time for yards from scrimmage in an NFL postseason contest. Only former Minnesota wideout Anthony Carter has had a bigger day. Here's a look at the players who have recorded the most yards from scrimmage in a playoff game:
 
Player (Team)
Season (Opponent)
Att.
Yards
Rec.
Yards
Total
Anthony Carter (Vikings)
'87 (49ers)
1
30
10
227
257
Eric Dickerson (Rams)
'85 (Cowboys)
34
248
1
-4
244
Steve Smith (Panthers)
'05 (Bears)
3
26
12
218
244
Eric Moulds (Bills)
'98 (Dolphins)
0
0
9
240
240
Lamar Smith (Dolphins)
'00 (Colts)
40
209
3
18
227
Reggie Wayne (Colts)
'04 (Broncos)
0
0
10
221
221
Jerry Rice (49ers)
'88 (Bengals)
1
5
11
215
220
 
Smith's postseason heroics have not been limited to 2006, however. He was also a catalyst during Carolina's Super Bowl XXXVIII run two years ago, when he led the team in playoff receptions (18), receiving yards (404) and touchdowns (3, tied with Muhsin Muhammad).
 
It's time to let the cat out of the bag: Smith has dominated the playoffs like no other receiver. Through the first six games of a postseason career, Smith leads all NFL players in both catches and yards. Here is a game-by-game breakdown of the top four:
 
Player
Gm. 1
Gm. 2
Gm. 3
Gm. 4
Gm. 5
Gm. 6
Total
Steve Smith
5-135
6-163
3-26
4-80
10-84
12-218
40-706
Randy Moss
4-73
6-75
5-127
9-188
2-121
2-18
28-602
Anthony Carter
6-79
10-227
7-85
4-102
3-45
4-44
34-582
Michael Irvin
4-83
5-84
6-88
6-86
6-114
9-126
36-581
 
Smith's 22 catches over the last two weeks are the most any player has ever registered in consecutive playoff games. In fact, only two players have ever reached the two-game total of 21, and both of them did so across different seasons. The first is the immortal Rice, who accomplished the feat during San Francisco's mauling of San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX and then in a divisional playoff loss to Green Bay the next season. The other man with 21 receptions over two playoff games will be on the sideline opposite Smith this Sunday: Seattle wideout Darrell Jackson had 12 grabs in last year's wild-card loss to St. Louis and recorded another nine a week ago in the win over Washington.
 
What really sets Smith apart from the competition, though, is the sheer amount of the offense that he generates. Of Carolina's 3,485 passing yards during the regular season, he accounted for a whopping 45 percent of them. In the two games of the postseason, his percentage has risen to a ridiculous 66. Defenses know who will be catching the ball, but they can't catch him.
 
The elusive Smith has truly become the cat's meow.

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