Panthers WR Steve Smith says injured knee 'not feeling as good as thought it would'

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said Thursday his injured left knee isn’t coming along quite as well as he’d hoped.

Steve Smith, who is Carolina's leading receiver, reaches for a pass in practice Thursday. Smith hurt his left knee in a Dec. 22 victory over New Orleans and hasn't played since.  CHUCK BURTON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHUCK BURTON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Steve Smith, who is Carolina's leading receiver, reaches for a pass in practice Thursday. Smith hurt his left knee in a Dec. 22 victory over New Orleans and hasn't played since.

Smith practiced for the second day in a row on a limited basis, saying, “It didn’t feel as great as I thought it’d feel.”

He said he “overdid it a little” in practice.

Smith estimates he’s “57 percent” healthy, down from 71 percent he mentioned on Wednesday.

As for whether he’ll play Sunday against the 49ers in the NFC divisional playoffs, Smith said “I’ll have to see” when he practices today.

Coach Ron Rivera expressed some concern, saying Smith didn’t look as sharp Thursday in practice as he normally does.

“When you watch Steve and watch the way he does things, there’s a smoothness to his movements and stuff – and it’s not quite there yet,” Rivera said.

At 34, Smith remains an integral part of Carolina’s offense.

The franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns finished the season with 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns.

Smith’s problems began when he sprained his posterior cruciate ligament while running a route in the first quarter of Carolina’s Week 16 game against New Orleans. He returned for one play but then left again and did not return, limping off the field and into the locker room.

He sat out the following game against Atlanta and had hoped that with a first-round bye he would return to form for the playoffs.

Rivera said Thursday “there’s always a chance” that Smith doesn’t play Sunday and the team has contingency plans in case he’s unable to play.

“He’s not his normal self yet, but he was out there,” Rivera said. “He did things he was supposed to do. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. He came in and felt a little sore” after practice.

The Panthers are more optimistic about getting running back Jonathan Stewart back on the field Sunday.

Stewart, who has missed the last three games with a torn ligament in his knee, said he’s feeling stronger and expects to play against the 49ers.

“I definitely have a burst, and rehab was good to me,” Stewart said.

But he also said he’s not pain-free.

“Pain is something I’ll have to deal with,” Stewart said.

Stewart said he felt fortunate that he didn’t tear his ACL, which would have ended his season, and required surgery and months of intense rehabilitation. He said he won’t need surgery to repair the existing tear.

Stewart has only played in six games this season for the Panthers after missing the first seven games with an ankle injury. He has run for 180 yards on 48 carries this season.

FLAIR WILL PASS ON GAME

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Pro wrestling legend Ric Flair issued a statement Thursday saying he will not attend Sunday’s NFC playoff game between the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers, ESPN.com reported.

Flair became embroiled in controversy between the teams last weekend by traveling to Wisconsin to give the 49ers a pep talk before their wild-card game against the Green Bay Packers. Flair, who lived in Charlotte from the early 1970s until recently, went so far as to say his “heart is with the 49ers all the way to the end.”

“The 49er pep talk, which instantly went viral, caused many Carolina fans to voice their feelings of anger and betrayal on social media – some even offering death threats to Flair,” said Melinda Morris Zanoni, Flair’s agent at Legacy Talent and Entertainment. “We know fans are passionate about their teams, but some of the choice language we have been receiving is scaring off our interns.”

– From wire reports


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