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Steve Smith Key to Carolina Panthers Playoff Run

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COMMENTARY | You've heard the old cliché, "There's no 'I' in team." Over the past few years, football fans have seen prima donnas come and go. Some get out of the funk, and others let it drive their career into the ground. One thing, though, rings true. When a team gets chemistry and every player buys into the fact that no one player is bigger than the team, good things can happen.

Steve Smith is the wiley veteran of this Carolina Panthers team. He's been in the league for 13 seasons, all with the Panthers. After Smith got his feet wet with the Panthers, he didn't waste any time in becoming a leader. Starting in 2002, Smith has led the Panthers in receiving every single season except for 2004 when he suffered a season-ending injury. Smith has had seven 1,000 yard receiving seasons in his illustrious career. When Jake Delhomme took over as the starting quarterback in 2003, he and Smith immediately connected. Smith tallied over 1,000 yards in every season except for two with Delhomme at the reins. Smith also enjoyed three trips to the Pro Bowl during Delhomme's time in Carolina.

In 2009, though, team chemistry started to take a hit. Delhomme had an off season, throwing only 8 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. 2009 was the first season besides his injury season that Smith didn't go over 1,000 yards. The next season, Delhomme was released and Jimmy Clausen was drafted. Between Clausen and Matt Moore, Smith showed his disapproval all season.

And then the Panthers drafted Cam Newton with the first overall pick in 2011. When Newton stepped onto the field in Week 1, he was already breaking records. Despite Newton's obvious talent, the Panthers were still losing and Smith was still unhappy. At one point, fans believed that Smith and the Panthers would part ways, but lo and behold, Smith and Newton started to bond, and team chemistry started to pick up towards the end of the season. In 2011 and 2012 Smith was back to his ways of leading the Panthers with 1,000 yard seasons after leading Carolina with 554 receiving yards in 2010.

Smith has shown that he can produce when he's happy. His best season, 2005, was full of fun for the veteran wideout. He and Cincinnati Bengals' receiver Chad Johnson excited the NFL with their various touchdown celebrations and Smith led the Panthers to the NFC Championship game with a 218 yard performance in the divisional round. The Panthers have been to one playoff game since.

There's no doubt that Smith is a leader, and, as his career is winding down, he needs to light a fire under his team. And, yes, it is HIS team. This team has shown that they have the talent, now they need to get the chemistry down, and they'll be on their way.

Matt Welch is a graduate of WVU. He's also a writer for Pittsburgh Sporting News, Ohio Valley Athletics, and Pros Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Welch1048.

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