Panthers' Smith ejected after grabbing official

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Steve Smith successfully kept his temper
in check through 14 games this season. When he finally erupted, it
came at the worst possible time for the Carolina Panthers.

Smith was ejected in the third quarter of Saturday's game
against the Dallas Cowboys for grabbing an official. He then had to
watch from the locker room as the Cowboys rallied to a 24-20
victory that put the Panthers' postseason plans on hold.

Smith was thrown out after he was tackled out of bounds by
Terence Newman. Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme had fumbled when
hit by DeMarcus Ware, Smith scooped it up, ran around the left side
and came about a yard short of a first down when Newman knocked him
out of bounds.

He claimed he was hit a second time out of bounds and
immediately began yelling at line judge Mark Steinkerchner, he then
placed his arms around the official. He was instantly called for a
15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty and ejected.

"I got hit out of bounds a little late, and as I was trying to
get up, someone pushes me back down," Smith said. "I grabbed the
ref and said, 'Hey, did you see that?'

"You're not supposed to touch a ref, I understand that. I
wasn't doing it to put him down."

Dallas safety Roy Williams said it was Smith's mouth -- not hands
-- that got him thrown out.

"He said some harsh words to the ref," Williams said. "The
ref didn't like it, and he got ejected, plain and simple."

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten also had a close view.

"I saw him kind of push [the official], and he was yelling,"
Witten said.

It capped a frustrating day for Smith, who was held to just one
catch for 18 yards before being ejected. He was clearly getting
irritated as the game progressed, and one play before being thrown
out, he angrily protested after Delhomme didn't see him wide open
in the middle of the field.

"I'm frustrated we weren't doing things right, but that's
football," Smith said.

Smith has had an all-star season this year in his comeback from
a broken left leg that cost him all of last season. He came into
the game with an NFL-best 93 catches for 1,414 yards and was
selected to his first Pro Bowl as a receiver earlier this week.

More importantly, he had been a model of maturity for the
Panthers for the first time in his career. Smith had avoided any
behavior that would have drawn ire from Carolina coach John Fox.

Smith avoided showdowns with Miami defender Sam Madison and
Minnesota cornerback Fred Smoot when both tried to trash talk him
out of his game this season. He quickly apologized to Fox for his
one outburst this year -- throwing his helmet in frustration after
being taken out of a goal-line situation in an early game.

So it was frustrating to the Panthers to see him unravel at a
most inopportune time. A win over Dallas would have locked up a
playoff spot for Carolina (10-5). Now the Panthers have to wait to
see how next week's finale in Atlanta plays out.

"I wasn't trying to be demonstrative and all that stuff. I'm
not trying to put my hands on the ref or get physical with the ref,
that's not my style," Smith said. "I know I'm going to get fined.
I'll deal with it and move on. It's my first time ever getting
thrown out of a game."