- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - When he was cut by the Carolina Panthers in March, Steve Smith cried.

Smith spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Panthers. The leading receiver in franchise history with 836 catches for 12,197 yards, Smith fully expected to add to those totals before being released in a cost-cutting move.

“We sat down as a family, we prayed, we thought about it and we discussed it,” Smith recalled Wednesday. “My wife cried, my kids cried. They didn’t see me; I shed a few tears. And then we got back up, dusted ourselves off and we said, ‘What is the plan for the Smith family?’”

Two days later, Smith signed with the Baltimore Ravens.

This Sunday, months after that somber family meeting, Smith has the opportunity to have the last laugh when the Panthers (2-1) come to Baltimore (2-1).

“I’m not bitter because I get to play,” Smith said. “But do I want to show certain individuals that I can still play? Honestly, I don’t have to. They are game-planning for me. (Panthers defensive coordinator) Sean McDermott knows what I bring to the table.”

With the Ravens, Smith has proven he’s still got the talent to be a No. 1 receiver. He leads Baltimore with 18 catches and 290 yards receiving, and has also been a leader in the locker room.

“It’s pretty obvious as a football player what he’s meant to us,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s made plays. He’s a fiery competitor. He’s been a leader. It’s a young group of receivers, and he’s had an impact on those guys. But he hasn’t done it in an overbearing way. He’s been himself. He’s fit in really well.”

Smith has a reputation for being loud and feisty. He trash-talks with the best of them - so much so that Harbaugh made light of it.

“My advice to Steve would be, ‘Shock the world. Surprise everybody. Don’t even say a word the whole game. Go into a shell!’” Harbaugh said. “But I don’t think he’s going to take that advice.”

Especially if Smith catches a pass in front of a former teammate.

“If he catches the ball, he’s going to let people know how good of a job he did right there,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I don’t think this week is going to be any different. I’m sure he’s talked some trash in 1-on-1’s the last handful of years with all the guys over there. So he’ll probably pick up right where he left off.”

Smith said: “My enthusiasm will be out of this world, but it will also be fun to play against guys that I know their tendencies.”

And the Panthers certainly know about Smith, who rarely eased up in practice or during a game.

“He was one of those guys who never wanted to back down from anything, and I was the same way,” Carolina cornerback Josh Norman said. “He will probably be in the Hall of Fame, and you have to respect that.”

Another reason to respect Smith? He’s just about as good today as when he was drafted in the third round of the 2001 draft out of Utah.

“He’s still got it,” Norman said. “He never dropped off from what he was. The older you are, the finer the wine, I guess.”

Smith is happy to be with the Ravens, and they’re delighted to have him. There are more and more No. 89 jerseys popping up around Baltimore these days, too.

But he will always have a huge place in his heart for Carolina.

“I miss everything about Carolina,” Smith said. “I miss my home. I miss my friends. Guys that I have grown with. But I also understand that it’s a business. And sometimes in business, you’ve got to temporarily go somewhere else.”

Playing - and starring - in Baltimore has helped ease the sting being dismissed by general manager Dave Gettleman without ceremony.

“Unless you hate your job, I don’t think anybody has walked out of your job and has been fired or released and go ‘Yay,’” Smith said. “I was taken aback by it, but I took my time to kind of reflect to kind of see it. To be honest, I knew a long time ago. I knew when I had my meeting with Gettleman what was going to happen, and that’s what happened. I walked out of there with dignity, and I held my head up high.”

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AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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