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Panthers WR Steve Smith out against Saints with first-quarter knee injury

Steve Smith leaves the field after suffering a knee injury. (Mike McCarn/AP)

Steve Smith leaves the field.

If the Carolina Panthers can beat the New Orleans Saints today, they'll clinch a playoff spot. And if they win out, they've got a good shot at the NFC South. That task became more difficult, however, when receiver Steve Smith went down with a non-contact knee injury in the first quarter of the game after Cam Newton missed him on a slant. Smith came up holding the back of his leg, which would seem to indicate a hamstring injury, but reports indicated that Smith's left knee is the problem. Smith came back into the game briefly in the second quarter, but returned to the sideline and was ruled out for the remainder of the game soon after.

Smith came into this game tied for the team lead in receptions with 63, and had the team lead in targets with 107. He caught one pass before he went down -- a beautiful long pass from Newton for 44 yards with 13:29 left in the first quarter. The Panthers were up 7-6 at the half, and perhaps their strong defense will continue to take care of business. Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 17-of-24 passes for just 124 yards, no touchdowns and a pick before the teams went to the locker rooms. Newton completed five passes in the first half -- all to different receivers.

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