“I look up to him after something like that,” fellow receiver Jacoby Jones said.
What Smith did that night, catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 Baltimore victory, is extraordinary under the circumstances, but also fits right into Smith’s story. As the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s rematch with the Patriots, this time in the AFC championship game, there is much talk here of adversity overcome, of obstacles hurdled. Most of that pertains to the injuries the Ravens sustained during the season and the losing streak they endured in December.
But for Smith, this is life. He bounced around the locker room this week smiling, comfortable that he belongs in the NFL and with the Ravens. He is a 23-year-old, second-year receiver from the University of Maryland who might act, as Jones said, “like the little bitty kid he is,” but had to be a man much earlier than most.
“I look at . . . this is a family here,” Smith said. “Locker room, the coaches, everyone. Even calling it a way to escape is kind of a weird term to use to me, just because the way the bond is between the guys here. I feel like these guys are my brothers. . . .
“Even after my brother passed, I left home, came up here, and the love was still the same. I’m definitely thankful for the Ravens for that.”
Since the moments after the game against New England, Smith hasn’t spoken specifically about his brother’s loss, about the difficulty of playing that day and the rest of the season. But for better or worse, he had an upbringing that taught him about all manner of struggle. Since Smith was 4, growing up in Virginia with a mother who worked a variety of jobs while attending night school, he played a role in raising his siblings. Now, the 19-year-old Jones was gone. This came at a time when Smith’s second season in the NFL was off to a slow start. He had just two catches in each of his first two games.
So there must be an ability to compartmentalize, to perform best when things seem at their worst.
“It’s my job,” Smith said. “I’m here. I’m on this team for a reason.”
That, Smith made clear, has little to do with football, and he has used the tragedy, in a broad sense, to put a focus on what teammates can do for each other in moments of crisis. “For our brother to lose his biological brother, it hurts us,” Pollard said. “It hurts us to see our guy down.”