CHARLOTTE -- It was just like the old days, but the old guy wanted to make one thing clear.
No mater how big a day Muhsin Muhammad had, he knows he's here to support Steve Smith, not the other way around.
Muhammad stole the spotlight Sunday in the Panthers' 24-9 win over Atlanta, with eight catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. In fact, it looked like the record-setting Muhammad that left here before his 2005 Chicago cash-grab, not the guy who the Bears thought was washed up and cut for salary cap reasons.
But Muhammad, as he's done since returning, admitted he's with the Panthers in a different capacity now.
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"Well, I'm the other guy," he said with a laugh, when asked if it was gratifying to show he could be "the guy" again. "I'm the co-host. I'm not the guy. I'm not the guy by any means.
"Smitty is a heck of a talent. It's great to be able to play with him. He's a great player out there. He's the guy. He's definitely the guy. I'm the co-host and I'm fine with that."
That wasn't necessarily the case in the past, when he bolted at the first opportunity following the 2004 season, in which he caught 16 touchdowns. The Panthers cut him rather than paying him a $10 million roster bonus, but that was a built-in fail-safe mechanism, designed to force the Panthers' hand. The Bears had him signed less than 12 hours later, but kept him for just half the six-year, $30 million deal.
The Panthers were delighted to have him back, especially at the cut-rate two-year, $3.5 million pact more befitting a 35-year-old playing the role of Ed McMahon.
"Moose was a productive player when he was here," coach John Fox said. "I think he's kind of stepped back up where he left off. He's been the same guy, which is a good thing."
Since returning, Muhammad's become more of a mentor, more of a counselor to a young team. He was again voted captain, and has been hailed by teammates and coaches alike for his professional approach to his new role in Charlotte.
"We played together for some years, and we've had some good years together -- there's a chemistry there," he said of his ease with Smith and quarterback Jake Delhomme. "I think chemistry is one thing that sometimes people take for granted. You can't just throw a team together and expect it to work. When that chemistry is there, it's something that's invaluable, and I think we kind of have that, and it's a good thing right now.
"I've played with Jake for some years and Steve for some years and that was one thing you didn't have to teach us, is how to have that chemistry together."
• PEPPERS PENALIZED: A solid day for the defense was nearly better, but for a penalty on defensive end Julius Peppers.
In the first quarter, he hit Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan as he threw, and the pass was picked off and returned for an apparent touchdown by cornerback Richard Marshall. But referee Ed Hochuli, who's been in the news since blowing the Denver-San Diego game two weeks ago, called Peppers for unnecessary roughness for his helmet-to-helmet contact with Ryan.
Replays showed Peppers shoulder going in first, and any contact between headgear was more of the grazing sort.
"I'm not trying to hit him with my helmet, not trying to hurt him, but it's football, too, and I'm going for the tackle, so helmets might hit sometimes," Peppers said. "Ed said he had to call it. Said it wasn't nothing malicious or anything like that, but he had to call it if my helmet hit his helmet. That's what it was. ...
"It's football. You've got to get the guy down. So if your helmet hits his helmet, whatever. It's unfortunate that Rich got the pick and it negated it, but we rallied and didn't let it affect us, and that's the good thing."
• CENTURY MARK: The win was the Panthers' 100th in franchise history, leaving them with an all-time regular-season record of 100-112 (.472).
For purposes of comparison, their expansion cousins in Jacksonville got win 100 in game 194, while Atlanta needed 246 games to reach triple digits in wins.
• EXTRA POINTS: Kicker John Kasay hit his only field goal attempt of the day, moving him into a tie with Norm Johnson for ninth place on the all-time list with 366. Kasay replaced Johnson as the Seattle kicker in 1991, before signing on with the Panthers for their inaugural season. ...
Running back Jonathan Stewart scored his fourth touchdown in as many games, but struggled to find much in either the running game (3.7 yards per carry) or kickoff returns (20.7). ...
Rookie defensive end Hilee Taylor was activated for his first NFL game, and responded with a sack. It was one of two for the day, with Peppers getting them in back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 5 and 6 of the 2006 season against Cleveland and Baltimore. ...
Inactive for the game were: Quarterback Matt Moore, wide receiver Ryne Robinson, cornerback C.J. Wilson, linebacker James Anderson, center Mackenzy Bernardeau, tackle Frank Omiyale, wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett and defensive tackle Gary Gibson.