Smith started the Panthers' final drive with an 8-yard reception. Then he turned a short pass into a 23-yard gain with some extra effort to advance the ball toward midfield.
The thing was, Carolina was down by 29 points.
It certainly wasn't the circumstances that Smith had in mind for the final snaps of the Panthers' first primetime appearance in nearly two years, but it was what his coach had in mind given the circumstances.
"Steve didn't want to come off the field. He's a competitor," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "When a guy like that is playing hard to the bitter end, if that doesn't send a message to his teammates, I'm not sure what does.
"I hope those guys learn something from that. I brought it up when I spoke to them in the locker room. If you want to see how to compete for four quarters, till the whistle blows, watch Steve Smith."
Smith's late-game determination did nothing toward determining the outcome, but it's the kind of thing that could help determine the direction the Panthers go following a loss that Smith labeled as "disgusting."
By his own admission not always an ideal team leader earlier in his career, Smith showed Thursday why he was recently named a team captain for the third consecutive season.
"Smitty gave unbelievable effort," quarterback
Smith said in similar circumstances in the past, he's "flown off the handle." But at this point in his career, the 12-year veteran has a handle on how to conduct himself and send a meaningful message to his teammates with his actions rather than a mixed message with ill-timed words.
"We're a young team, and it's a trial by fire. But guys have got to understand that this is unacceptable," Smith said. "You can make speeches, say this or that, but guys really just need to close their mouths and come in and work. You have to evaluate yourself."
Smith has done more than his share of self-evaluation over the years, and it's brought him to the point where his determined display in the waning moments Thursday night has become the norm.
He just doesn't want to see Thursday's outcome become the norm.
"You've got to dust yourself off and keep going," Smith said. "Everybody's name is on it. You can't want to just be a Carolina Panther when it's a sunny day and everything is going great, and then after the game tuck your tail in and run. That's not what it's all about.
"You've got to stand up and take it. That's men becoming boys, or boys becoming men – depending on which would you choose."