Smith vs. Talib fun to watch and inspiring

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith didn't waste a lot of time talking about his individual war against New England cornerback Aqib Talib after Monday night's 24-20 victory.

It was kind of like the game.

He let his play do the talking.

"This is the best compliment I can give a guy like that,'' Smith said. "Be his self. And he was his self.''

That wasn't a compliment, in case you're wondering. That was Smith's way of saying he doesn't think much of the player ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden drafted at Tampa Bay in 2008 to shut down Smith.

But their battle -- and it was almost warlike -- was fun to watch. Smith got the best of this matchup in part because he seemingly got into Talib's head.

On Carolina's second series, Talib was called for unnecessary roughness because he wouldn't let go of Smith's leg after the 13-year veteran caught a 5-yard pass for a first down. That led to a touchdown.

Talib was called for holding on Smith on an incomplete third down pass that set up a field goal to give Carolina a 10-0 lead.

After New England pulled even in the second half, Smith caught a key 16-yard pass against Talib to the Patriots' 21 to set up another touchdown.

Talib pushed Smith hard out of bounds after the play. Smith strutted a bit, but basically ignored the 20th pick of the 2008 draft and went back to the huddle.

It was that way all day for those two. Smith was unwilling to back down from Talib.

"When does Steve ever back down?'' left tackle Jordan Gross said with a laugh.

Quarterback Cam Newton, who connected with Smith four times for 62 yards, referred to his receiver as "aka Mighty Mouse.''

"He gets excited when a challenge like that gets presented to him,'' Newton said.

But Smith's play is inspiring for a team reaching for heights it hasn't before. His play set the tone for this win just as his comments after a 12-7 loss to Seattle in the opener set the tone for the season.

In case you forgot, Smith predicted then the Panthers would face the Seahawks again deep into the playoffs. Monday night's victory was another sign that could happen.

But as far as taking time to discuss Talib, Smith wasn't having any part of it.

"Just another notch in the bedpost,'' he said. "Just let my play speak.''