Nobody laughing at Smith prediction now

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The words "comments you made after the Seattle game" barely made it out of the reporter's lips Wednesday when Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith interrupted.

"[Comments] a lot of people joked off? Yeah. This old dude may know some things, huh?" Smith, a 13-year veteran, said with a smile as he leaned against a trash bin next to his locker.

I resurrected the comments Tuesday as a part of my Power Rankings post, but they are worth repeating if you missed them. The Panthers were less than an hour removed from losing their opener 12-7 to Seattle when Smith came to the defense of his team.

"I stand on this: I think we're going to see them again deep in January," Smith said at the time. "For us to have played that team that is considered by all accounts the best team in the NFL ... if that's the best team, we came down to the [final minutes] and it was a well-fought game.

"Our season is not over. If that means the season is over, I'm not sure what kind of football y'all are used to around here. That's not a quitting team."

Late January remains a ways off, but the Panthers (9-3) are on the path Smith predicted. They have won eight straight games and have a chance to take the outright lead in the NFC South with a win Sunday night against New Orleans (9-3) in the Superdome.

Smith hasn't said much about his comments since, but he did Wednesday as the Panthers prepare to face a New Orleans team coming off a 34-7 drubbing by the Seahawks (10-1).

"I've been on some sorry teams, and I didn't believe we were a sorry team," Smith said, explaining his comments. "So just because we lost, I wasn't going to listen to people tell us how bad we were and this is the same old Panthers.

"Because I was on some same-old Panthers teams in the past, and that wasn't it."

Smith said he never wavered on his comments, even after a 1-3 start that began speculation coach Ron Rivera might not last through the season.

"No, I didn't waver," he said, "especially as much as I watched these guys work as hard as they do."

You have to respect Smith for standing up for his team and what he believes in. Rivera liked the comments then and he likes being reminded of them.

"I think it means a lot to the team," he said. "It just shows the confidence. This is a veteran guy who has seen a lot. And you guys know Steve. Steve doesn't say anything he doesn't mean. So I was pretty excited to see that. I was pretty excited to see it was reprinted.

"There's some meaning to it. We'll see how things play out."