CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Thanks to his teammates' perseverance, Steve Smith got to be a part of ``Winning Monday.''
Coach John Fox cuts short the film session and lets players leave early the day after victories. When the Panthers suspended Smith for the first two games after sucker-punching teammate Ken Lucas in training camp, the prospect of anything less than a full day on the job following those games seemed remote.
But after Sunday's 20-17 win over Chicago, the Panthers are 2-0, full of confidence and eager to welcome their dynamic and sometimes troubled star receiver back to a team that senses it can do something special this season.
``Some of these things make you better, make you stronger,'' Fox said. ``I think the type of guys we have in that locker room, I think an unfortunate incident is made into a positive. I think the fact that we were able to win two games without him makes us all better, him included.''
Smith did not speak to reporters Monday, but his teammates seemed excited to add a three-time Pro Bowl pick to a unit that beat San Diego and Chicago with dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks.
se past two weeks, that just gives us more confidence,'' said rookie running back Jonathan Stewart, who scored the winning touchdown against the Bears. ``And of course when Steve gets here, he's going to be fired up.''
Patriots
New England re-signed fullback Kyle Eckel and released tight end Stephen Spach.
The Patriots also re-signed defensive back Mark Dillard from the practice squad and released punter Tom Malone from that group.
Eckel had been released by the Patriots on Aug. 26 after playing 12 NFL games, all last season with New England. He rushed 33 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
Spach was released by the Patriots for the second time in two weeks. They first cut him on Sept. 1 then re-signed him on Sept. 4. He played in the first two games this season and did not catch a pass.

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