Carolina Panthers

Fiery Smith knows how to stay cool

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers were the beneficiaries of emotion run wild the last time they played Atlanta.

Last week, it helped cost them a game, though not as conclusively as Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall's September meltdown did.

That's why to a man they talk about remaining in control, knowing the other side's often doing their best to goad them -- or at least one of them -- into a rage.

Hall provides the perfect opportunity for the discussion, since his 67 yards worth of penalties on a game-tying 80-yard drive helped bring the Panthers back into a game they didn't appear to be in. He was trying to get into the head of rival Steve Smith, a one-time friend with whom he's no longer close.

Smith shrugged off questions about Hall's taunts Thursday as effectively as he did the taunts themselves in Atlanta, where he often pulled his hands back behind his head as Hall was taking one shot after another at him.

"It's just another day at the job site," Smith said. "It's just part of the game. Pretty much nothing really surprises me any more, just because this game is so mental.

"Yeah, people are always going to try to bait individuals they feel concerned about or threatened. People may disagree, but actions obviously show otherwise. Does anything surprise me? No. I just go out and play football."

Smith, who has his share of anger issues -- though he doesn't express them like he did earlier in his career -- said his plan is simple. He treats the trash-talkers and the guys who lean on him, the ones who come at him every week, no differently from cornerbacks who try to jam him off routes. He's compartmentalized it, made it a technical issue, one more item in his pre-snap checklist.

That it involved Hall makes it a bit tricky, though Smith denies he views him any differently. The two became close during a commercial shoot earlier in their careers, and he even broke bread with Hall during the Falcons' road trip here in 2005. That's long since over, after Hall took shots at Smith during interviews last year.

"Each and every week you have to separate that," Smith said Thursday. "You have to. If you don't, you're really not effective. That's shown, each and every week. If somebody loses the technical standpoint and goes personal, or they get too personal and forget their technique, stuff like that. It may be in the heat of the moment, for their team in a good way by making a play, but if he gets so jacked up he loses focus on the next play."

Hall hasn't talked about the incident this week, turning down offers to do so. Falcons coach Bobby Petrino likewise tried to downplay it.

"There's no question, it was frustrating," Petrino said. "We felt like we were in good shape in the game and we were all playing hard, but there was a lot more to it than just that.

"Oh, we've talked (about staying in control). There's no doubt about that. He's done a nice job, working at it and playing well, and I know he's looking forward to the game."

Falcons defensive end John Abraham said he disputed a few of the calls, but understood why Hall let his anger get the best of him.

"I've been around players who get emotional in a game, so it really wasn't as bad as it was made out to be," Abraham said. "I know DeAngelo Hall, and he plays with passion and his passion came out during that game. He was playing against probably one of the best receivers in the league, and he's trying to make his name as one of the best cornerbacks, so his passion came out.

"Especially when they were going back and forth, the last call could have gone either way because Steve was sitting there and talking to him, also."

Smith's teammates have come to understand the head games are going to be part of what they see each week, not that it matters.

"Don't care," guard Mike Wahle replied when asked about the Smith-Hall sideshow. "As long is doesn't affect Steve -- and it doesn't -- the other guy can do what he wants.

"Steve is our guy. As long as he's in control of that situation, and we feel like he was in that game, then who cares?"

Of course, the Panthers aren't always the choir-boys in this equation.

Last week in Tennessee, they were called for five personal fouls penalties in their loss to Tennessee. Included were a pair on a third-down fumble, which instead of leading to a punt and field position, enabled the Titans to drive to a half-ending field goal.

Panthers coach John Fox said he talks to his players often about remaining focused, but knows that it's a fine line between aggression and rage -- particularly for defensive players.

"This game is a game of emotion," Fox said. "The problem is when you get too emotional, you usually don't make good decisions. The speed of this game, sometimes it's not the original offense that gets caught. It's the retaliation. There are going to be penalties, whether you call them personal fouls or roughing the quarterback or pass interference. Those are aggressive penalties. The ones you try to get away from are the retaliations or the false starts or the offsides where they happen. You try to avoid those as a coach.

"They're not trying to hurt anybody. They're just trying to make a play, and sometimes there is a penalty for it, whether it's a flag or a fine. And they happen because it's a very fast, physical game."

And one played by prideful young men, who are constantly striving to establish the pecking order.

Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas is no different, though he acknowledged Thursday he had to learn how to curb the urge.

"It happens so natural for guys to talk noise," Lucas said. "But I learned at a early age I don't play well when I'm highly upset. Your whole mindframe is, you want to hurt that guy, and especially on defense, you can't take that mindframe. Because then you're not thinking about what you're supposed to do on the play, you're only thinking about what you're trying to do to this guy right here.

"Consequently, you may hurt the team while you're doing your own thing, being selfish."