Five Things We Learned from the Ravens' 31-30 win over the New England Patriots
Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Vensel breaks down the Ravens' victory.
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1. The Ravens would have supported Torrey Smith if he hadn't played, but they would not have won this game without him.
While glorifying the snarling, high-impact game that we all unconditionally love, we often throw around words such as strength, courage and character whenever a quarterback, against long odds, leads his team down the field for a last-minute score like Joe Flacco did Sunday night or when a player pulls himself off the turf and returns to the huddle after a hard hit. Football is not for the faint of heart, and at times, it isn't for heavy hearts, either. But there was Torrey Smith, operating on an hour's worth of sleep, a couple of hours before kickoff Sunday night, running fly patterns with his football family in pregame warmups, perhaps for a few seconds trying to outrun the thought of never seeing his younger brother smile nor hearing his obnoxious -- but infectious -- laughter again.
Late Saturday night, Smith's 19-year-old brother, Tevin, crashed his motorcycle into a pole in Virginia and died. When Smith got the news, he left the team hotel around 1 a.m. Sunday to be with his family. He rejoined the team Sunday afternoon, swallowed his emotions and walked out onto a football field. After running through the motions for nearly a half hour, he headed back toward the locker room. He crossed paths with veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who gave him a brief hug, and receivers coach Jim Hostler, who put a comforting hand around his shoulder. He walked toward the first row of bleachers, now starting to buzz with activity as fans trickled in, and had a brief conversation with two of his guests. Smith reached out and held the young woman's hand for a second, then slowly walked to the stairs that lead to the bowels of the stadium, occasionally glancing up when fans offered him condolences or words of support.
Two hours later, he ran out of the tunnel for the start of a game. He was playing, though sitting it out would have been a perfectly acceptable decision, too. This was just a football game, after all, and Smith already showed true strength, courage and character long ago when he served as a father figure to his six younger siblings, including Tevin, while his mother worked two jobs and attended school. As a young boy, Smith changed their diapers, dressed them, made them microwave dinners, and put them to bed at night if his mother hadn't come home yet. With Smith doing all he could to be the rock his younger siblings needed, the family survived financial hardship, domestic violence and legal issues involving his mother. That he persevered, became a college graduate and is in now in the NFL is nothing short of remarkable. And while I can't even fathom what Smith and his family are now going through, they will survive this together, too.
What Smith did on the field Sunday night was secondary, but after he wiped tears from his eyes after a moment of silence for his brother and a moving, acoustic national anthem, he went to work on the Patriots secondary. After making a leaping touchdown catch in the second quarter that breathed life into the listless Ravens -- they trailed 13-0 at the time -- Smith pointed to the heavens and bowed on one knee, praying and paying tribute to Tevin. He finished the game with six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns -- very impressive for a weary-eyed young man who was lugging a very heavy heart up, down and across the football field Sunday night.
"I'm glad I came up here. It really helped me out a lot," Smith said at the post-game press conference. He then quickly showered, changed clothes and left the locker room with his head held high, two energy drinks in his hand, and a game ball from Harbaugh tucked under his arm.
"How do you explain it?" Harbaugh later said, after embracing Smith. "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. To me, that's the greatest things about sports."