CHARLOTTE – After the Panthers had lost their fifth consecutive season opener to the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium, wide receiver Steve Smith turned heads when he said the following:
"I think we're going to see them again deep in January."
The media surrounded Smith at his locker on Wednesday as the now 9-3 Panthers – winners of eight consecutive games – get set to travel to New Orleans to face the 9-3 Saints. The 13-year veteran was asked to recall the thought process that went into his confident proclamation.
"There are people that laughed at me and said, 'Oh, he's an idiot,'" Smith said. "But I just see how hard we work."
Smith remained confident when onlookers were already writing off the Panthers one week into the season.
"One of things that was said was, 'If they don't win this first game, we'll see they are the same old Panthers,'" Smith recalled. "Well, now look at us."
With a win against New Orleans, Carolina can become the fifth team ever to win nine consecutive games after starting a season 1-3 or worse.
This Week 14 matchup was flexed to the Sunday Night Football spot so the entire country could get a look at Smith and the Panthers.
"Now, people are seeing that hey, they have changed," Smith said.
Carolina suffered a 12-7 defeat to the now 11-1 Seahawks in Week 1. It was a game that was highly competitive and could have gone either way.
Said Smith: "It wasn't a fluke."
Smith walked off the field that day knowing the Panthers could compete with anyone.
"I've played this game just a little bit and I've been on some sorry teams," Smith said. "I didn't believe we were a sorry team. Just because we lost, I wasn't going to listen to people tell us how bad we were and that we were the same old Panthers. I was on some same old Panthers teams in years past, and that wasn't it."
Smith never wavered. That's because he saw how hard this team was working to contend.
"We are in a world today that instant gratification is the only thing that's looked at," Smith said. "We want instant gratification so much that we push aside the effort of people.
"A lot of things that we do as football players are unseen. You get to see the quote-unquote finished product on Sunday. There's so much preparation and so much work that's put into it."
On Sunday night, the country will get to see a team that was written off by many at 1-3 competing for first place in the NFC South.
"We had to take our lumps, had to take some hard lessons. We had to grow from it," Smith said. "That's what we did. Patience is a virtue."