BALTIMORE — Steve Smith successfully played all the roles Sunday: scorned lover, old crank, wise sage and, most notably, a thrilling wide receiver with plenty of football left in him. He had promised to extract “blood and guts” when he exacted his revenge on the Carolina Panthers, but there was plenty of sweat and tears involved, too.
“That film was a coaching session,” Smith said of Sunday’s stirring performance. “They’re going to be coaching it. I’m 35 years old, and I ran around them boys like they were school-yard kids.”
Smith hauled down 139 yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens’ 38-10 win over his old team. From start to finish, all eyes were on the veteran receiver. Not since Glenn Close brought the water to a boil had a jilted ex channeled anger so forcefully.
Smith had been looking forward to facing the Panthers since the day they released him in March. He told fans back then that if he ever lined up against Carolina, “put your goggles on because there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.”
Coaches and teammates certainly expected Smith to be amped up for Sunday’s game. Smith has a way of playing angry regardless of the opponent — “Can he be crazier?” quarterback Joe Flacco asked reporters earlier in the week — and the receiver’s promise to make Carolina rue its decision was no secret. In the Ravens’ season opener against Cincinnati, cameras caught Smith barking on the sideline, taunting his former team from afar: “Hey, if you [expletive] think I can’t play, you’re gonna find out in Week 4, [expletive]!”
Week 4 arrived, but coaches and players reported the 14-year veteran was surprisingly calm when he arrived at M&T Bank Stadium — at least comparatively speaking.
“It wasn’t like he was walking around like, ‘Man, this game,’ ” Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said.
Ravens Coach John Harbaugh caught up with Smith in the training room before the game and asked Smith whether he was doing okay. “Nope,” the receiver responded.
“What does that mean?” Harbaugh said later with a chuckle. “I think it means he recognized the gravity of the situation a little bit.”
Smith said once the game began he was more worried about schemes and routes than any hurt feelings. Just two minutes into the second quarter, Flacco’s pass tipped off the out-stretched fingers of Owen Daniels and into Smith's waiting hands. The receiver never broke stride until he reached the end zone, a 61-yard score that showed Carolina exactly what it said goodbye to last spring.
Uncomfortable committing so much money to such an old receiver, the Panthers released Smith in the offseason. One day later, the Ravens pounced, signing Smith to a three-year deal. They liked what they saw on film, but coaches also know that time manages to sneak up on the very best of players.
“I was hoping,” Harbaugh said, “I had my fingers crossed. . . .
“But the kind of production he’s had, it would be pretty hard to predict that.”
All Smith has done is turn in three 100-yard performances in four outings. He has 429 yards and three touchdowns on the year and has hauled in three times more receptions (25) than any other Ravens wideout.
“He’s like one of those big Tonka trucks," Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said Sunday. "He’s an unbelievably talented player, and I respect him so much. . . .
“I’m one of his biggest fans. I wish he was still here, but things happen.”
On Sunday, they kept happening again and again. Flacco to Smith for 61 yards. For 21. 17. 16. By halftime, Smith had 122 yards and added a second touchdown when Flacco scooped up a fumbled snap and sent a floater toward the end zone. Smith was there, of course, carrying a Panthers defender on his back. Officials threw a flag for defensive pass interference, but it didn’t matter: Smith pulled down the 21-yard touchdown pass that gave his new team a 21-7 lead.
The Ravens (3-1) showed no signs of an organization reeling from the domestic violence scandal that has beset all of the NFL. Flacco wasn’t sacked for a third straight week, the defense made big stops when Baltimore needed them most and coaches appear to have settled on Justin Forsett as their primary tailback. (He finished with 66 yards rushing and 31 receiving, plus an 11-yard touchdown run.)
The offense, guided this year by coordinator Gary Kubiak, has found a way to let Smith shine. Sunday’s performance was the sort Carolina fans had cherished for 13 seasons.
“That’s who Steve is,” Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said later, after the “blood and guts” had all been spilled. “We know who he is.”
Who he is was certainly clear Sunday afternoon. Steve Smith is a Raven now. One quarter of the way through the season, Baltimore is better because of it. The Panthers — at least on Sunday — were not.