Steve Smith, Aqib Talib go at it

AP

Round One of the Steve Smith vs. Aqib Talib battle goes to Smith. And it’s a 10-8 round.

Smith beat Talib in the first quarter of Monday night’s Patriots-Panthers battle not only by catching passes, but also by being the one who came out on top in a brief skirmish between them: After a Smith reception, Talib grabbed Smith’s ankle and wouldn’t let go, Smith responded by grabbing Talib and knocking off his helmet, and the resulting skirmish ended up with Talib getting a 15-yard penalty.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick benched Talib to get him to cool off, but quickly put him back in the game to cover Smith again. Sure enough, the two continued to go at it after another play and had to be separated.

The drive with all that action ended with Cam Newton hitting Brandon LaFell on a nine-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead, and Smith deserves a lot of credit: In addition to those 15 penalty yards on Talib, Smith caught two passes for 47 yards on the drive.

Talib and Smith have gone head to head several times in the past and have never liked each other. Their matchup tonight is one of the key battles in the Patriots-Panthers game, and it’s a battle that Smith is winning.