By snaring a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Matt Moore in Carolina's win over Minnesota last Sunday, Steve Smith tied Muhsin Muhammad in the Panthers' record book with 49 career touchdowns as a Panther.
It was a seminal moment for the Smith-Muhammad tandem, perhaps the last great one for a twosome that could be broken up for good next season (The 36-year-old Muhammad is a candidate to be released). That makes this week a good time to put the tandem's scoring production in perspective.
For much of the last decade they have been one of the NFL's most consistent, clutch wide receiver twosomes. Although Carolina in eight seasons under John Fox has relied a lot on the running game to finish drives, Muhammad and Smith have combined to score 50 touchdowns in their 6 seasons together. Where does that rank among modern wide receiver tandems? Let's examine:
Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the passing game has gradually opened up to the point where we now watch a heavy passing league. That has produced some of the elite receiver tandems over the last two decades. Smith (22) and Muhammad's (28) combined touchdown reception mark of 50 would be near the top in the 1970's and even 1980's, but does not compare to some of the elite numbers put up by modern receivers. To whit:
--Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined to catch 134 touchdown passes in 8 seasons together with the Colts (2001-2008).
--Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce combined to catch 126 in their 9 seasons together with the Rams (1999-2007).
--The most prolific scoring tandem in modern NFL history, the Marks Brothers (Clayton and Duper), caught a total of 140 in 10 seasons together with Miami (1983-1992).
Other tandems scored more often in less time together than Smith-Muhammad. Cris Carter and Randy Moss combined for 93 touchdown receptions in 4 seasons with the Vikings (1998-2001), while Andre Reed and James Lofton scored 51 combined in 4 seasons with the Bills (1989-1992).
The twosomes who compare most closely to Muhammad-Smith, in terms of receiving touchdowns:
--Irving Fryar and Stanley Morgan of the Patriots, who caught a combined 57 in 6 seasons (1984-1989).
--Wesley Walker and Al Toon of the Jets, who grabbed 48 in 5 seasons (1985-1989).
Muhammad has not caught a touchdown pass yet this season, so it is a safe bet that Muhammad-Smith will not gain much ground on the aforementioned top twosomes before their time together ends. Eventually their production as a twosome will be largely forgotten on the national scene, much like Toon-Walker and Fryar-Morgan. (It does not help that Muhammad interrupted his Carolina career to play three seasons with the Bears).
But Smith-Muhammad may reign in the minds of Panthers fans for quite a while. Smith should play for at least a couple more years, but Carolina is unsettled at No. 2 receiver heading into the offseason. It may be a while before Smith gets a partner who helps anchor a passing game like Smith and Muhammad did at times between 2001-2004, and 2008-this season.
Their most productive scoring seasons together: 2003, when they combined to catch 10 touchdown passes (7 for Smith, 3 for Muhammad) and 2008, when they combined for 11 (6 for Smith, 5 for Muhammad). It's no coincidence that the Panthers advanced to the playoffs both seasons, or that they failed to make the postseason in two of the three seasons Muhammad played in Chicago.
Their 49 career receiving touchdowns with Carolina are both more than the 44 scored by former tight end Wesley Walls, No. 3 on the list. Walls has not played for Carolina since 2002. No other player has more than 13.
Smith owns the club record with 57 career touchdowns running and receiving. Muhammad is second, with 49, followed by Walls, with 44. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart may both pass Muhammad. Williams has 34 and Stewart 19.
But no matter how those standout tailbacks fare in the future, they will not replace the Muhammad-Smith tandem in the minds of most Panthers fans.