Falcons vs. Panthers
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Charlotte, N.C.
On TV, radio: FOX, 92.9-FM
FLOWERY BRANCH — Chris Houston expects Carolina receiver Steve Smith to do anything he can to rile the Atlanta secondary this weekend.
Houston was a rookie cornerback in 2007 when former teammate DeAngelo Hall, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, let Smith get the best of him.
During a third-quarter series that helped Carolina score a touchdown and eventually win the game, Houston watched as Hall drew three penalties totaling 67 yards. Hall was so enraged after the Panthers scored that he began arguing on the sideline with former Atlanta coach Bobby Petrino, who later fined him $100,000.
“Steve knew he could get DeAngelo mad, so he didn’t stop until DeAngelo flipped out,” Houston said. “I guess you say it worked in (Smith’s) favor because they won the game.”
In the Falcons’ Week 2 victory two months ago, Smith caught eight passes for 131 yards, but was so angry after getting flagged for offensive pass interference in the fourth quarter that he had to be restrained while lunging at Atlanta cornerback Brian Williams.
The penalty wiped out a 10-yard catch that would’ve moved Carolina to the Falcons’ 13.
“Guys that are that talented know what they’re doing,” said cornerback Tye Hill, who will share coverage duties Sunday when Atlanta (5-3) visits the Panthers (3-5).
“You don’t get those kind of numbers by accident. You put up the kind of stats he puts up by being a great football player.”
Smith had already embarrassed Houston in the second quarter with a 28-yard catch to the Falcons’ 32. The drive ended with DeAngelo Williams running past Houston for a 3-yard touchdown.
But on the Panthers’ final drive, Houston stepped in front of Smith at the Atlanta 4 and intercepted Jake Delhomme’s pass to help secure a 28-20 victory.
“Nah, he didn’t say anything at that point, but I never expected him to,” Houston said. “Everything he says, every move he makes, every block he throws, every route he runs is either meant to beat you directly or set you up to fail later. You just realize he’s a great player, let him say what he wants to say and just do your best to defend him. I don’t see any point in making a difficult situation even worse.”
Since the Falcons drafted him out of Arkansas in the second round of 2007, Houston hasn’t had trouble checking his emotions.
That doesn’t mean he’s taking Smith lightly.
After all, Houston doesn’t need to be reminded that Panthers coach John Fox suspended Steve Smith for the first two games of 2008 after his sucker punch broke the nose of former Carolina teammate Ken Lucas in training camp.
Once he returned to the field, however, Smith continued to produce big numbers — his 5,630 yards receiving since the start of 2005 rank third in the NFL.
“Who knows what Steve might do? If that’s part of his game, then you have to walk away,” Houston said. “He wants to get in your head with something he might say to distract you from doing your job, but he’s the ultimate competitor. He wants to beat you every time out.”