Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith had a bandage on his middle finger and a tongue-in-cheek response when asked about his status for Sunday’s NFC South showdown with New Orleans.
“I think I’m out,” Smith said jokingly. “I’m out for Sunday.”
Smith, 34, hasn’t missed a game in three seasons and is expected to play against the Saints, even if he decided to have some fun with reporters Thursday.
Smith missed practice Thursday, a day after a tipped Cam Newton pass hit the tip of the middle finger on Smith’s left hand and dislocated the finger. The injury occurred near the end of Wednesday’s practice.
Smith, who had the finger bandaged Thursday, isn’t sure what trainers will do in terms of splinting or bandaging it for Sunday’s game.
“I don’t know exactly what the situation is. I’m just trying to make it through ... 24 hours after,” Smith said. “Take one out of Bill Belichick’s (book), I’m day-to-day.”
But Panthers coach Ron Rivera expects Smith to practice Friday and play against the Saints.
“They just popped it back in and had it bandaged up, so he should be fine,” Rivera said. “They wanted to let it calm down. They didn’t want to irritate it any more than it needed to be. I expect him to come out (Friday) run around, catch the ball and be ready to roll.”
Smith, tied with tight end Greg Olsen for the team lead with 63 receptions, hasn’t missed a game since a calf strain kept him out of the 2010 finale at Atlanta. Smith, the second-longest tenured player in team history, said he doesn’t need to remind any of the younger players the importance of Sunday’s game.
“As far as must-win, this is it,” Smith said. “If this the playoffs, this is the playoffs. You win, you move on. You lose, an early vacation.”
The Panthers (10-4) could still make the playoffs with a loss to the Saints (10-4), but Carolina’s hopes of winning the division and earning a first-round bye in the playoffs would be gone.
“I think this game is very important,” Smith said. “The value to this game is what it is, which is you have to be on your Ps-and-Qs. Mistakes have to be minimal. We’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity we have.”
Getting the boot: The Saints’ decision to cut kicker Garrett Hartley in Week 16 came as a surprise to Panthers kicker Graham Gano. Hartley, who made the kick that sent the Saints to the Super Bowl four years ago, was waived after he missed two field goals field-goal attempts last week in a loss at St. Louis.
“I was surprised to see they let Garrett go, but you don’t know what goes on and he’s a good kicker,” Gano said. “Usually teams stick with the guy, and Garrett had a good history with New Orleans.”
The Saints signed well-traveled Shayne Graham to replace Hartley. Graham, 36, has kicked for 10 teams over 13 seasons, including the Panthers in 2002 after an injury to John Kasay.
“I competed with him in Washington, so I know him pretty well,” Gano said. “To be able to kick this long and for as many seasons as he has, it shows he knows what he’s doing.”
Guard is up: Right guard Chris Scott was active against the Jets last week after missing five games with a sprained knee. Scott, who started the first eight games, is expected to see his workload gradually increase.
But Rivera said Nate Chandler, the defensive tackle-turned-offensive lineman, remains the starter.
“It was good to see (Scott) out there,” Rivera said. “He’s a bigger body than Nate. He’s more of a natural guard than Nate. But at the same time, Nate’s played very physical, very well for us. He’s done a great job. So what we’ll probably look to do is see if we can integrate (Scott) a little bit into the system, get him going again.”
Staff writer Jonathan Jones contributed.
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