Panthers Rewind: Remembering Steve Smith's Amazing Comeback 2005 Season
Steve Smith is the best receiver to ever put on a Carolina Panthers jersey and his memorable 2005 season was one for the ages. He helped lead Carolina to the NFC Championship game and put up numbers that will always be remembered.
But this story actually starts in 2004. After a memorable 2003 season where the Panthers made their first Super Bowl appearance, the expectations for Carolina and Smith were high going into 2004. Due to his breakout in 2003, the Panthers rewarded Smith with a six-year, $26.1 million contract, which secured his spot in Carolina for the years to come. But late in their week-one matchup against the Green Bay Packers, Smith caught his sixth catch of the game but broke his leg on the play, which ended his season. With Smith's absence, teammate Muhsin Muhammad would go on to have a spectacular 2004, where he led the NFL in receptions (93), yards (1,405) and touchdowns (16).Muhammad also earned First Team All-Pro as he was now the leader of every franchise receiving record. This left the Panthers with a decision to make. They had already paid Smith and Muhammad's contract was up. They had to either figure out a way to pay both or let Muhammad walk. As we all know, the Panthers decided to release Muhammad and put their faith in Smith's recovery. Muhammad ended up signing with the Chicago Bears.
Right from the start of the season in week one against the New Orleans Saints, Smith was out to prove to everyone that the Panthers made the right choice by keeping him and his stats started to fill up.
Here are his stats broken down by game for the first half of the season:
Week 1 vs New Orleans: 8 rec, 138 yards, TD
Week 2 vs New England: 4 rec, 34 yards
Week 3 at Miami: 11 rec, 170 yards, 3 TD's
Week 4 vs Green Bay: 2 rec, 12 yards
Week 5 at Arizona: 8 rec, 119 yards, 2 TD's
Week 6 at Detroit: 6 rec, 123 yards, TD
Week 7: BYE WEEK
Week 8 vs Minnesota: 11 rec, 201 yards, TD
By the midpoint of the season, Smith had 55 catches, 903 yards, and nine touchdowns. He was leading the league now that he was the best receiver in the entire NFL and would do whatever it took to help his team win games.
Here are his stats broken down for the remainder of the season:
Week 9 at Tampa Bay: 5 rec, 106 yards, TD
Week 10 vs New York Jets: 3 rec, 34 yards
Week 11 at Chicago: 14 rec, 169 yards
Week 12 at Buffalo: 3 rec, 55 yards
Week 13 vs Atlanta: 7 rec, 65 yards, TD
Week 14 vs Tampa Bay: 5 rec, 103 yards
Week 15 at New Orleans: 6 rec, 85 yards, TD
Week 16 vs Dallas: 1 rec, 18 yards
Week 17 at Atlanta :9 rec, 131 yards, TD
The Panthers finished the season with an 11-5 record and a spot in the playoffs. Smith finished the season with a then-Panthers record of 103 catches, 1,563 yards, and 12 touchdowns. He led the NFL in each of those categories. Smith's hard work earned him the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
As the playoffs began, the Panthers would have to travel to New York to face the Giants in the Wild Card round. Carolina would make easy work of the Giants as they won 23-0. Smith would finish the game with ten catches for 84 yards and one touchdown. Next up was a match-up with the best defense in the entire NFL, the Chicago Bears, who the Panthers had lost to in Week 11 with a final score of 13-3.
Entering the game, the Bears held the title of the league's best defense led by Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and future Panther Charles "Peanut" Tillman. Urlacher was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year that season and led a tough Chicago team to the playoffs. But you may be asking, who was coaching this incredible defense? It was former Chicago Bear great, and future Carolina head coach, Ron Rivera - who at the time was an up and coming coaching star in the NFL.
In the first match-up against Chicago that year, Smith had 14 catches and 169 yards, but the Panthers failed to reach the end zone. Smith knew that despite Chicago's stacked defense, he could have his way with them, and it all started with the second play of the game. Jake Delhomme threw a deep pass on the right sideline to Smith who was covered by Charles Tillman, and Smith came down with the ball for a 58-yard touchdown. He set the tone right from the start. Smith would finish the game with an incredible 12 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers shocked the world by going into Chicago and leaving with a 29-21 victory.
Next up was the NFC Championship game and a chance at another Super Bowl berth. However, Smith and the Panthers' glorious season would come to a halt as they travelled to Seattle to face the number one seeded Seahwaks. Seattle would win 34-14 as Smith had five catches for 33 yards.
Steve Smith's 2005 season was inspirational and reminded everyone that no matter what injury you may have, you can come back stronger. Smith will go down as one of the best players in Panthers history.
Do you remember this season? Do you remember agreeing or disagreeing with the Panthers about the Muhammad decision? Do you think Smith should have won the league MVP that year? Let us know all of your thoughts in the comment section below and interact with us on social media!
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