- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith tried to diffuse any potential controversy between he and rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen on Wednesday.

Smith, a four-time Pro Bowl player, said his sideline comments to Clausen in Carolina’s 20-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday have been overblown by the media.

Television cameras caught Smith walking over to Clausen, who was talking with an assistant coach on the bench, and screaming at the rookie.

Smith walked away, but returned and said something else before being escorted away by tight end Jeff King. At that point, a frustrated Smith threw down his cup of Gatorade.

“It was said that I was just about to ‘go off’ and I wasn’t,” Smith said after Wednesday’s practice. “I thought it was interesting because here, I was obviously agitated and frustrated, but sometimes people think they know me better than I know myself. I think that’s a joke and I think the people that reported it are jokes.”

Clausen, who will make his second NFL start Sunday at New Orleans, downplayed there being tension between he and Smith.

“There really wasn’t anything between me and Steve,” Clausen said. “Like I told you after the game it’s just his competitiveness as a football player. He wants the ball. I think it’s a good thing for your receivers to want the ball as much as they can get it.”

When asked Wednesday what he thought of Clausen’s performance in his first NFL start, Smith said he did “as well as he could with the current situation.”

It’s no secret the Panthers are struggling on offense _ not just in the passing game, but running the ball as well _ ever since the preseason began.

After failing to score an offensive touchdown in four exhibition games, the Panthers haven’t gotten much better in the regular season with only three touchdowns so far in three losses.

They rank 31st on offense in total yards and are last in scoring.

“I think Jimmy, like everybody else, would like to take some throws back, (and change) some decision making,” Smith said. “Myself, I feel the same way. In a loss it’s hard to have positives because you didn’t do a good enough job to have positives. But I think he did very good and he learned a lot of things.”

Clausen reiterated he wants to get the ball to Smith, but it would be a mistake to force the ball into his star receiver, especially if he’s constantly double covered as he’s been.

“I can’t force anything,” Clausen said. “I tried to force that one into him (on Sunday) and it got intercepted. And that is what you get more times than making a completion. I have to be smart.

Steve is a great player and I want to get the ball to him as many times as I can but I can’t force it because it causes turnovers and interceptions.”

At 0-3, the Panthers face a tough road back.

While the Panthers had their six-game winning streak in New Orleans snapped last season, Smith believes there’s a lesson to be learned from that game.

The Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead, then seemed to take their foot off the gas and wound up losing to the high-powered Saints 30-20.

“You get some points early, you can’t shut it down _ bottom line,” Smith said. “If you get up 14 of 17 points and then you don’t do anything after that _ especially against an explosive offense like that _ they’re not going to sit around and twiddle their thumbs. They are going to draw up plays in the dirt and do whatever they can to come back. So when you get up 14 or 17 or even three points and try to sit on it and hope for the best, it’s not going to work.”

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