Saints face an old nemesis in Panthers’ Steve Smith

Associated Press photo by MIKE McCARN -- Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith gestures during player introductions before a Nov. 3 game against the Falcons in Charlotte, N.C. In 21 games against the Saints, Smith has 1,400 receiving yards. Show caption
Associated Press photo by MIKE McCARN -- Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith gestures during player introductions before a Nov. 3 game against the Falcons in Charlotte, N.C. In 21 games against the Saints, Smith has 1,400 receiving yards.

Roman Harper on Panthers WR Steve Smith: ‘You can’t let what he does affect you’

There’s a key to covering Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, the infamous “Saint killer,” according to Roman Harper.

“You can’t let what he does affect you,” the New Orleans safety said. “You’ve got to be able to stay focused.”

That’s not always been the easiest proposition for the Saints (9-3), who host their NFC South rival Panthers (9-3) on Sunday night. Smith has scored more times on the Saints (11) than he has on any other opponent. He’s 11-10 against New Orleans during his 13-year career, catching 92 passes for 1,400 yards.

He’s celebrated many of those catches by flexing his muscles, slapping his hands atop his helmet or spinning the ball. Those are sights Saints fans can hardly stomach — and sometimes, their hometown heroes have trouble standing it, too.

Just two seasons ago, after Smith scored a 54-yard touchdown, Harper barreled into Smith several yards into the end zone. That prompted both teams to brawl and Smith to yank Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins by the facemask.

But that’s in the past, Harper insisted, saying: “I don’t hold grudges or anything like that. ... I’ve moved on. I’m sure he probably has, too.”

And on Friday, the Saints preached nothing but respect for the 34-year-old Smith.

“What’s impressive is the length of his career,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “His ... competitive nature and instincts have been outstanding. He’ll be the first to get a retirement card from me whenever that happens.”

Jenkins added: “He’s really an emotional leader for their team. ... I think everybody knows how he is — he’s feisty.”

Smith leads the Panthers with 54 catches for 632 yards. He scored the last of his three TDs this year in a Week 5 victory against Minnesota, which started the eight-game winning streak they’re on.

Sherman fined

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman was fined $7,875 after drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty in the Seahawks’ 34-7 win over the Saints on Monday night, the NFL said Friday.

Sherman knocked wide receiver Kenny Stills off his feet in the end zone during a second quarter play at Seattle’s 12-yard line in which Drew Brees was flushed left and threw a short incompletion to Marques Colston. Sherman barged into Stills’ left shoulder while the Saints rookie’s eyes followed the play, and Seattle was penalized.

Stills on Friday said he didn’t object to Sherman’s play, which resulted in a first down.

“I just told him, ‘Thanks for the first down,’” Stills said.

De la Puente welcomes baby

Let it never be said that Rivers de la Puente has bad timing.

Rivers — son of Saints center Brian de la Puente and his wife, Makenzie — was born Wednesday, Dad’s day off. If he had been born two days earlier, Dad would’ve been busy playing in Seattle. If he had been born Tuesday, Dad might’ve still been flying back from Seattle after a crack in a cabin window of the Saints’ chartered plane kept them in the Emerald City an extra night.

“I hope that’s a precursor to what will be happening” the rest of the season, de la Puente said about the good fortune that his son was born while he was in town.

De la Puente, 28, said he named his boy in honor of the Mississippi River as well as Rivers Gleason, the son of Steve Gleason, the former Saint battling ALS who launched a foundation seeking a cure for the disease.

“We asked Steve (about his boy’s name), and he said, ‘Of course,’ ” de la Puente said. “I want my son to know his story, and he will.”

Five Saints questionable

Saints NT Brodrick Bunkley (ankle), RT Zach Strief (ankle), S Rafael Bush (ankle), DE/OLB Keyunta Dawson (calf) and DE Glenn Foster (knee) are questionable for the Panthers game, the team said.

Bush, Dawson and Foster didn’t practice on Thursday or Friday. Bunkley missed Thursday but was limited Friday. Strief was limited on Thursday and Friday.

The Saints didn’t practice Wednesday but were required to file an injury report with the NFL. All five questionable Saints wouldn’t have participated in drills if the team had practiced that day.

For Carolina, only G Chris Scott (knee) was ruled out. LB Jordan Senn (hamstring) is doubtful.

Going for world record

The Saints say a Guinness World Records representative will attend the game against the Panthers on Sunday night to see whether fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome can break the mark for “loudest crowd roar at an indoor sports stadium.”

The current record of 126 decibels was set at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif., during a Sacramento Kings game on Nov. 15, the Saints said.