Ravens again can't catch up to Smith


Jacksonville wide receiver Jimmy Smith knew the Jaguars, down to their third-string running back and facing one of the NFL's top run defenses, would be forced to rely heavily on their passing game.

So Smith set about enjoying a familiar feast.

The Ravens may have won over their city and established themselves as legitimate playoff contenders with yesterday's thrilling, come-from-behind, 39-36 victory. But they are still wondering if and when they will ever find a way to stop Smith, who continues to undress their secondary with one spectacular game after another.

Smith outdid himself once again, this time in the faces of first-round draft picks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister, two cornerstones of the Ravens' defense.

How heroic was the three-time Pro Bowl player in defeat? Consider that Smith produced more in the first half - 194 yards and 10 catches - than any Ravens receiver has managed in two games.

He finished the day with 15 receptions for 291 yards, both career highs, and three touchdowns. He crept within striking distance of NFL records in both categories. Tom Fears (Dec. 3, 1950, Los Angeles Rams) holds the single-game receptions record with 18. Willie Anderson (Nov. 26, 1989, Los Angeles Rams) holds the single-game yardage record with 336.

And once again, Smith held the Ravens in the palms of his hands. Working from both wide receiver positions and the slot, he burned Starks for two first-quarter touchdowns, schooled Starks and McAlister repeatedly with every pass pattern imaginable, and snatched a deflected pass for what appeared to be a game-winning, 40-yard touchdown with 1:45 left.

Smith would have had a fourth touchdown had quarterback Mark Brunell not overthrown him in the end zone, after Smith left McAlister standing still with a drop-dead, stop-and-go move during Jacksonville's opening drive.

"Incredible, incredible," Jaguars center Quentin Neujahr said of Smith's show. "He is unbelievable with some of the stuff he pulls down. People can say what they want about the great receivers in this league. I'll take Jimmy Smith."

Said fellow wide-out Keenan McCardell: "[The Ravens] started out doubling me and left [Smith] in one-on-one [coverage]. I knew it was going to be a long day for them."

Smith started the day with a 26-yard reception on the game's first play from scrimmage by beating Starks to the inside. He finished his day by grabbing a pass that caromed off the hands of McCardell, then breaking a tackle by Starks at the 10 and completing a 40-yard score.

In between, he continuously burned the Ravens in man-to-man coverage and found soft spots in their zone alignments. And he created a first-half nightmare for Starks, the third-year cornerback whose confidence took a major hit.

Smith, who caught at least one pass on every Jaguars possession in the opening half, left Starks dazed on back-to-back drives that ended with long scoring passes.

Smith gave Jacksonville a 10-0 lead by blowing past Starks along the right sideline and gathering in Brunell's perfectly thrown pass for a 45-yard score. Smith ended the next drive in virtually the same sequence, as Starks tried futilely to recover by batting away the ball at the last moment.

That 43-yard touchdown made it 17-0 with 2:32 left in the quarter.

"That's the worst half I've ever played," Starks said. "It made me look bad. I just have to recover."

Smith sensed he and McCardell would have to take over to beat the Ravens, since Jacksonville had lost starting running back Fred Taylor to a knee injury, and backup Stacey Mack was gimpy with a sore ankle. Jacksonville had to turn to third-year man Chris Howard, who made his first start.

Howard and Mack combined for just 43 yards on 19 carries, and each of them lost a fumble that led to a Ravens touchdown, fueling Baltimore's comeback.

"We've always had a slogan as a receiver corps here. We want to put everything on our shoulders, we want all of the pressure put on us," Smith said. "We were put in a bad position, down to our third-string running back, and we knew we had to throw the ball to get into the end zone. We feel like we can't be stopped as a unit."

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