Smith rallies in difficult conditions, helps lift Ravens to stirring victory
BALTIMORE -- It was billed as a night for revenge, and a chance to settle old scores. But for Torrey Smith and his Baltimore Ravens teammates, it was instead about remembrance of a different sort.
Smith, the Ravens' second-year deep-threat receiver, helped his team win a big football game here Sunday night. Even as he was suffering from the sudden and heartbreaking loss of his younger brother, Tevin Jones, 19, who died early Sunday morning after a motorcycle accident in northeast Virginia.
Smith not only made the game just hours after receiving his family's horrible news, but also almost single-handedly made it possible for Baltimore to beat its nemesis from New England, catching a pair of touchdown passes to lead the Ravens to an inspiring 31-30 comeback over the Patriots -- in a rematch of last year's bitter AFC Championship Game, won by New England.
Smith poured a heavy heart and soul into the game, but he also added his very best, too, grabbing a team-high six passes for 127 yards, scoring Baltimore's first and last touchdowns on an emotional night at M&T Bank Stadium. And when it was over, he knew there was no place else he was meant to be.
"It was tough emotionally,'' Smith said. "I didn't know how I would hold up. But thanks to my teammates and coaches, and all the support from really everyone around the league [I did].
"I was just telling my teammates a minute ago that this is new territory for me personally. I never really had to deal with a death in the family, let alone my brother. In our family, everyone's so tight. Just like a lot of other families. It's part of life, and due to my teammates and my family and friends, I'll be able to get over it.''
Smith seemingly took the first step toward that recovery when he stepped back on the football field Sunday night, deciding to play only four-and-half a hours or so before kickoff. He had left the team early Sunday morning to grieve with his family in Virginia, then returned in time for this much-anticipated game, with only an hour of sleep under his belt. But he played with abandon, and his teammates and the Ravens crowd seemed to feed off his performance, knowing that he channeled his sorrow into the fuel for his performance.
"It was probably a relief for him to come out and play football for three hours,'' fellow Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin said. "I can't imagine being in that situation, but he came out and played his butt off.''
That he did. Smith lifted Baltimore's spirits with his first touchdown catch -- a 25-yarder with 9:45 left in the second quarter -- cutting into New England's 13-0 lead and starting the Ravens comeback. And it was his second touchdown that rescued Baltimore's hopes once more, a 5-yard pass from Joe Flacco that made it 30-28 New England with 4:01 left in the game and set the stage for rookie kicker Justin Tucker's 27-yard game winner at the final gun.
"What it came down to, being a receiver, you've got to have your mind clear,'' Smith said of his decision to play through his pain. "You can't have anything weighing on you, or you'll tense up, and it'll cause you to drop the ball and have mistakes. I didn't want to hurt my team. I came here, and the more I was grounded, the more comfortable I started to feel. I'm glad I came back up here, and I think it helped me out a lot. It helped me a lot.''
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh dedicated the Baltimore victory to Tevin Jones and the Smith family, and said there was never a thought to hold Smith back once he declared himself prepared to play.
"When Torrey said he wanted to play, then the decision was finished,'' Harbaugh said. "He was going to get the opportunity to play. He deserved that. If it didn't work out, then we'd have known, and he'd have known. Obviously he's a pretty special guy.''
Smith's perseverance and grace under pressure inspired the Ravens, and Harbaugh marveled at the ability of the 23-year-old to handle the sad and somber news and produce one of the best games of his young career. It was Smith's third career 100-yard game, and he registered season highs in catches, yards and touchdowns.
"How do you explain it?'' Harbaugh said. "Coming from a faith perspective, God and heaven work in beautiful wonders, mysterious, wonderful ways. I am not talking about winning and losing. I am talking about what you see people accomplish in the face of adversity. That's really what it's all about. What would be a better story than the one you just saw?''
While Smith was the focal point on this night, starting with the moment of silence the Ravens held in Tevin's honor before the game via the public address system, he was far from the only hero in Baltimore's first regular season win ever against New England. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was superb as well, picking New England apart to the tune of 28-of-39 passing, for 382 yards, three touchdowns and a 117.7 passer rating.
Baltimore's final drive was its best, with Flacco taking his team 70 yards in seven plays in the final 1:55, capped by Tucker's first career game-winner. It earned Flacco the praise that he missed out on in last year's AFC title game in Foxboro, which through no fault of his own was lost on Lee Evans' memorable drop in the end zone and kicker Billy Cundiff's 32-yard shank of a potential game-tying field goal.
"It was fantastic, it was elite,'' Harbaugh said of Flacco's game, which helped the Ravens top 500 yards of offense (503) and improve to 2-1, staying tied with Cincinnati for the AFC North lead. "To me, Joe is a great quarterback. This is what we've been saying for five years. It's not surprising in any way. It's who Joe is, it's who he always has been. He's not going to be perfect -- none of us are. But what you saw out there is Joe Flacco. That's who he is as a football player.''
The Ravens got the games they have come to expect from Flacco and running back Ray Rice (20 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown, five catches for 49 yards), and even a Baltimore defense that backpedaled for much of the night stiffened when it had to, forcing punts on the final two Patriots possessions. But from Smith, they got the kind of transcendent performance that no one could have predicted given the tragic circumstances.
"It was awesome,'' Flacco said. "I can't imagine what he's going through. For him to come out and be able to play football the way he did tonight, it says a lot about who he is. This is just unbelievable, for him to be able to come out there and just focus on football.
"Obviously I didn't see him all day until he got into the locker room. When I saw him I went over and said hello, and he seemed his normal self, he really did. He seemed like he was ready to play football and ready to go out there and help us get a win. That was great. We all wanted to rally around him and go get it for him.''
The Ravens rallied, and so did Smith. It was a night to remember for both. And a night few in the Baltimore organization will ever forget.
"I think he did what his brother wanted him to do, and that's to go out and play like a Raven,'' Rice said. "And what a show he put on for his brother tonight.''