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Steve Smith just won't go away

If Steve Smith ever had a moment of self doubt, he squashed it with one of the most inspiring payback performances one may ever see.

If you've ever dealt with bed bugs, you know they are about the worst sort of pest one can encounter. And if you have ever crushed the scourge, you understand just how good Steve Smith feels right now.

Bed bugs are an insidious thing. They emerge when you are sleeping, and attack you while you are in a personal space. They are a physical affliction, but the worst part is the omnipresent mental stress. Bed bugs instill doubt -- you start to feel things crawling on your skin that don't exist, you question whether the problem is really solved, wonder whether you can live worry-free ever again. Bed bugs live can live for over a year without a meal. Though technically vanquishable, their return can feel like an inevitability, along the lines of getting older and dying.

As with aging, you might never be able to defeat the bug. Coping methods include pretending the problem doesn't exist, or making a vain attempt to live with it. The best, however, is to do what Smith did, and tell it to fuck right off:

Smith was cut by the Carolina Panthers this offseason for a host of complicated reasons, but primary among them was that his play had slipped to a point that didn't justify keeping his salary on the books and his domineering personality in the locker room. This made Smith very angry, so much so that he vowed revenge in an unrelated game that took place three weeks ahead of the Week 4 bout against the Panthers. He had suffered an attack on the mind, body and spirit. In pure vindictiveness, he achieved retribution against them all.

Smith vs. his battered spirit

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has said of Smith that he "loves being underestimated." By cutting Smith -- and by the way they cut him, allegedly leaving Smith in the dark while publicly dropping hints during the offseason -- the Panthers told the wideout in some form that he was washed up, setting a karmic time bomb that blew in the first quarter.

Smith tip catch

This play was not intended for Smith. It's unclear whether Smith even should have been where he was. He and Owen Daniels were headed for the same spot on the field, and Joe Flacco's pass appeared to be targeted at the tight end. Smith may have screwed up on this play, but no matter. He was destined to shine that day -- Sunday, Sept. 28 -- just as he had ordained Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Smith vs. his withering body

Size has always been a criticism against Smith. Standing 5'9, his success as a wideout is an anomaly -- by the end of the season, Smith could have beyond 3,000 more career receiving yards than Gary Clark, who retired in 1995 as the NFL's all-time leading receiver standing 5'9 or under. Smith's declining explosiveness has made him a popular pick to fade in his twilight years. And yet here he is, on pace for a career season and undeterred because one thing remains constant though Smith's career is nearing it's close: The man is tough as hell.

smitty

smitty

There's Smith throwing down safety Roman Harper with little effort. There's Smith catching his second touchdown pass of the day with Melvin White draped all over him. Smith hasn't lost a step. At least, he hasn't lost anything that he can't make up with pure force of will.

Smith vs. all rationality

Through four games, Smith has 429 receiving yards, putting him on pace for more than 1,700. At age 35, that would easily be a career high, and something no one has ever done at his age -- the only comparable feats would be Marvin Harrison racking up 1,366 at age 34, and Jerry Rice gaining 1,848 at age 33. At this rate, Smith will better his 2013 production after just seven games.

Smith wasn't hurt last season -- he missed the regular season finale with a PCL strain, but was fine leading up to Week 16. His role simply changed. He was still the fierce competitor and downfield blocker he always has been, but now he was tasked with being a possession option. Smith averaged just 11.6 yards per reception, well below a career average of 14.9 across his other 13 seasons.

It appeared that Smith had slipped for good. Fans were advocating a permanent move to the slot (something Smith himself had suggested for several years). The wideout didn't appear to be himself, resigned to a perfunctory role (on, admittedly, one of the better Panthers teams of his career).

Whether Smith's move to Baltimore shook something loose is impossible to say. It's the fun narrative to slap on this story, however, the week after he performed perhaps the most satisfying half of football of any player this season. It was as perfect a performance as we have seen, precisely because there was nothing surprising about it. Smith gave us a heads up in Week 1, and delivered -- five catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns by halftime, seven catches for 139 yards for the game.

No one mentioned Smith's mental state during the 2013 season. We all tacitly assumed, perhaps Smith included, that old receivers are supposed to fade away. If no had said anything and Smith remained a Panther, we may be still be watching his decline with acceptance and indifference. But general manager Dave Gettleman implicitly opened his mouth last month and decided that the Panthers legend wasn't good enough for the team. And instead of tolerating a new nibbling itch of self-doubt, Smith decided to remove the infestation by proverbially nuking his whole damn apartment.