Panthers Flex Muscle In Opener

Steve Smith conjured echoes of the 2003 playoffs with another long touchdown catch that propelled the Carolina Panthers to victory and quieted a road crowd.

Smith outsprinted Tye Hill on a 68-yard catch for the go-ahead play in Carolina's 24-13 opening victory on Sunday. As Smith eased into the end zone, Hill stumbled and then slid on his stomach for several yards.

The play was reminiscent of Smith's 69-yard shocker in the second overtime of the division playoff game between the teams that left Rams safety Jason Sehorn grasping only air and sent Carolina to its first Super Bowl appearance.

The Rams' decision to give feature back Steven Jackson the preseason off backfired. Jackson lost two fumbles on consecutive carries in the third quarter, equaling his season total from last year.

The first fumble negated a scoring opportunity, with Julius Peppers recovering at the Carolina 26. The Rams' defense saved Jackson on the second fumble, with hits by Brandon Chillar and Corey Chavous stripping DeShaun Foster at the St. Louis 3.

St. Louis also lost seven-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Pace, who injured his shoulder late in the first half and did not return. Pace missed half of last season with a torn triceps.

Smith had seven catches for 118 yards while schooling Hill, the Rams' first-round pick last year.