- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith likes being a bully. He admitted in a recent interview that he may be a better fit for his new team, citing a quote from the Baltimore Ravens defensive meeting room.
"Play like a Raven, Baltimore Ravens, we build bullies," Carolina's all-time leading receiver told CSNBaltimore.com.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera doesn't want to build bullies.
Rivera says one reason the Panthers lost last season's NFC divisional playoff game 23-10 to San Francisco was because they lost their composure, drawing three personal foul penalties for basically bullying the 49ers.
He's trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.
So on Sunday night when Rivera saw first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin flip the ball at Kansas City's Chris Owens and subsequently draw a 15-yard penalty for head-butting the cornerback on the sideline, he stepped in for a lengthy lecture with the player that has replaced Smith as the No. 1 receiver.
"What we want guys to understand is that we have to maintain our composure on the football field," Rivera said. "That’s why we lost in the playoffs. It started with me. I made the mistake of getting caught up in that emotion. We have to learn how to control that."
Rivera was more proactive when Carolina cornerback Josh Norman got into a jawing match with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in the second quarter of the 28-16 victory. The fourth-year Carolina coach immediately pulled Norman from the game even though he hadn't drawn a penalty.
Linebacker Thomas Davis helped drive home Rivera's message. As Bowe and Norman got into each other's faces, he got between them and pushed Norman away.
"If we’re going to be a playoff team, we’ve got to do those things the right way and we’ve got to be able to handle it," Rivera said. "When we see it, we pull guys to the side and try to get that corrected. We’re not going to play that way. We’re going to play smart football."
Rivera seemed more upset with Norman than he was with Benjamin because Norman has been around longer and should know better.
Benjamin is a rookie playing in his second preseason game. He hasn't had a history, at least in practice, of bullying defensive backs.
Rivera doesn't want it to become a habit as it was with Smith, who was released in March in part because some of his bullying -- with the opposition and teammates -- was a distraction to the team.
"I told Kelvin that this is going to happen, a guy is going to try to get inside your head and get you to play outside of your game," Rivera said. "I told him that when they start doing that it’s because they know you can do some good things. You’ll learn how to handle it and learn how to be graceful about it and keep going forward."
Benjamin admitted he made a mistake and let Owens bate him into losing his cool by "talking, just being a defensive player."
But Rivera also understand there's a time when a player has to "stand up for yourself"' if another player is trying to intimidate you.
"There’s a point where you have to draw a line and a guy has to understand that if you do this and continue to do this, then I’m going to draw a line in the sand," he said. "I told [Benjamin] that if you want to go get back at somebody, just go make a play."
Benjamin made a couple of nice plays, catching a 24-yard pass from starting quarterback Cam Newton over the middle to start Carolina's second scoring drive and a 17-yarder over the middle from backup Derek Anderson.
Both were in traffic. Both showed he can make the physical catch.
His 15-yard penalty took Carolina out of field goal range late in the half.
"That's something I've got to learn from," he said.
Norman made some nice, physical plays as well as he fights to remain among the top three cornerbacks. Although he seemingly didn't see anything wrong with the jawing that got him yanked -- "What do you want us to be out there, little puppets?" -- he understands the importance of control.
Rivera wants control. He wants his team to play smart.
He doesn't want to build bullies.