Steve Smith's big day leads Ravens to 38-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers


September 28, 2014|Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

Steve Smith only has been with the Ravens for about six months, but his teammates and coaches are starting to get a better read on the veteran wide receiver.

So when John Harbaugh approached Smith in the training room before the game against the Carolina Panthers and asked him the most general of questions, the Ravens coach listened to the one-word response and was content. It was all that he needed to hear.

“I said, “How are you doing? You doing OK?’ and he said, ‘Nope,’ ” Harbaugh said. “I think it [meant] he recognized the gravity of the situation a little bit.”

The Ravens spoke privately last week about making sure Smith exited the game against his former team as a winner. In reality, all they needed to do Sunday was follow his lead. Smith put on a show against Carolina, catching two touchdown passes in the Ravens’ 38-10 dismantling of the Panthers in front of an announced 71,218 at M&T Bank Stadium.

“That film [of today’s game] was a coaching session,” Smith said in an otherwise subdued news conference after the Ravens improved to 3-1 ahead of a stretch where they’ll play four of the next five games on the road. “I’m 35 years old, and I ran around them boys like they were school-yard kids."

Smith caught seven passes for 139 yards, becoming the oldest receiver in NFL history to have more than 400 receiving yards in his first four games. He was the clear offensive star on an afternoon when the Ravens had several standouts.

Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 22 of 31 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns as the Ravens racked up 454 yards of total offense and went 10 of 13 on third-down conversions. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro each had a touchdown run and combined for 127 yards on the ground.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith broke from his struggles to catch a 24-yard touchdown early in the third quarter that all but put the game away. The offensive line opened up running lanes and prevented Flacco from being sacked for a third straight game.

Aside from a basic coverage breakdown on Kelvin Benjamin’s game-tying, 28-yard touchdown catch about midway through the second quarter, the defense was solid, sacking Cam Newton twice and forcing another turnover.

But the tone for a dominating afternoon was set early in the second quarter when Flacco lofted a third-down pass to Owen Daniels and watched it deflect off the tight end’s hand and right into the arms of Smith. He coasted untouched into the end zone, celebrating the 61-yard touchdown catch by taking a bow and then tossing the ball in the stands.

“It was one of the craziest plays you’ll see, greatest touchdowns you’ll see, but I’ll take it,” Flacco said. “I got a little freebie.”

Steve Smith also got the ice breaker he needed. Released in March by the Panthers after 13 seasons, Smith warned in a radio interview that there would be “blood and guts everywhere” if his new team happened to play the Panthers.

However in the days leading up to the game, Smith was more reflective than angry. He said he had no bitterness and nothing to prove to the Panthers. What he was looking forward to most — Smith maintained — was the game being over. He also made sure his teammates knew the game was much bigger than him.

“It wasn’t like he was walking around like, ‘Man, this game,’ ” Torrey Smith said. “We all knew when he got here, he had it marked, so it wasn’t really heightened up at all. Steve’s mad, and I’m convinced that he’s always at the extreme level of madness, so it wasn’t like he went overboard. He was good to go.”

The Ravens made sure to feed off his energy. On their first offensive play, Flacco rolled out and hit Smith for 17 yards. Why not get him involved early?

If Smith’s first touchdown was a stroke of luck, his second was a show of confidence from his quarterback. Flacco knew the Panthers were pressing Smith on the line of scrimmage and wanted to give him a shot on the go-route. So even after dropping the snap, Flacco collected the ball and tossed it toward the back of the end zone while barely even looking in Smith’s direction.

Smith beat cornerback Melvin White and then made the diving catch. He did a little dance and then headed toward the sideline, this time holding onto the ball to present it to his youngest son, Steve Smith Jr., after the game.

“I know so many people were saying this over and over, ‘I get ejected, I fight, I talk [trash],’ ” Smith said. “I just went in there and played and didn’t have anything good, bad or indifferent to say. They didn’t even deserve for me to spin the ball on them. I just caught it, and put it down and got on about my business.”

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