Smith misses practice but expected to play

CHARLOTTE – Wide receiver Steve Smith missed practice on Thursday but head coach Ron Rivera insisted the finger injury that kept him off the field isn't a concern.

"He dislocated it yesterday, and they just popped it back in," Rivera said. "He should be fine. We didn't want him to irritate it anymore."

Smith, who suffered the injury when making a catch toward the end of Wednesday's practice, classified himself as day-to-day.

"Part of football," he said.

Minor injury aside, this is the part of football Smith savors – with the NFC South division title on the line when the Panthers host the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

The 13-year veteran said the losing seasons feel like they drag on.

"I thought it was at a tortoise pace," Smith said.

On the other hand, the winning ones fly by, and he's taken the time to appreciate Carolina's success in 2013.

"It's fun when you're winning," he said.

And the stakes are raised when you're winning.

The increased pressure affects different people in different ways. Smith sees himself as one of the players responsible for keeping teammates loose.

"Are people going to be tight? I think so. I think people get tight in these situations," Smith said. "You have to have people that say, 'Hey, it's still a game.' You have to make it fun. You have to keep it competitive.

"You can't put more pressure on yourself than the pressure that's already instilled on you."

As for the key to victory against the Saints in the rematch, Smith's answer was simple: play better.

"We just have to," he said. "We have to do a better job. We have to convert."

"You can't really look at how significant this game is long term. It's very significant at this moment. We have to take advantage of every opportunity we have."

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