It would have been fitting for Ravens wide receiver Chris Givens to have angrily spiked the ball, releasing months of frustration. He could have celebrated his long-awaited return to the end zone by striking a pose or performing a few dance steps.
Yet, after catching a 14-yard pass from Joe Flacco for the go-ahead touchdown in the Ravens' eventual loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Givens subtly pointed to the crowd, embraced a few teammates and then jogged toward the sideline.
"It was a great feeling," Givens said. "I used to celebrate and do those things, but once I really got a work ethic and I really started putting the work in during the offseason and doing the things that I needed to do, I just came to a level where I expected to do those things. On Sunday, I expected to score somehow. When I did, I just felt relieved."
Givens, 25, put a lot into this season, a contract year. He worked tirelessly all offseason with renowned trainer Mack Newton. He was motivated to honor the memory of his best friend, Kevin Smith-Franklin, a former Wake Forest teammate who died in December. But after a strong training camp, Givens found himself falling on the St. Louis Rams' depth chart and struggling to get on the field.
Only now, a little over six weeks after the Rams traded him to the wide receiver-needy Ravens for a future seventh-round pick, does Givens feel he's found his comfort zone. As he prepares to face his former team Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, he's unburdened of the disappointment of diminished playing time in St. Louis and enjoying another chance.
"I don't even need my alarm anymore. I wake up excited to be here," said Givens, who has 10 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in five games and hopes to work out a deal to remain a Raven.
Seven receptions have come in the past two games as he's inherited a bigger role with Steve Smith Sr. out for the season with an Achilles injury. "I get here early, stay late. It's one of those places you look forward to coming to, just knowing that you're going to get a fair opportunity and everybody is in it for the same reason."
Givens said Sunday's matchup carries "a little more juice," given his close relationship with members of the Rams organization. Earlier in the week, he sent a text message to Rams cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, playfully suggesting that they sleep well this week. They replied that they would put the clamps on him and shut him down.
Givens insists he holds no animosity toward the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2012.
"I feel like if I go out there and handle my business and do everything I'm supposed to do, that will show [the Rams] everything that they need to see," he said.
"I'm grateful because of how Coach [Jeff] Fisher handled everything," added Givens, who had just one catch and was playing less than 30 percent of the Rams' offensive snaps when they traded him. "He knew I wasn't happy with the situation. We had a talk and he basically told me that he was going to do what's best for me. To put me in a situation like this, with a team like this, with coaches like this, I just have the utmost respect for him for keeping his word and doing right by me."
In his first season with the Rams in 2012, Givens led the team with 698 receiving yards and set an NFL rookie record with at least one catch of 50 yards or more in five consecutive games. But he was unable to build on his promising rookie campaign. Season-ending injuries to starting quarterback Sam Bradford in back-to-back years hurt Givens' production. He struggled to become more than a deep threat, and St. Louis kept bringing in new receivers.
The Rams drafted Tavon Austin (Dunbar) and Stedman Bailey in 2013, and signed free agent Kenny Britt, a Fisher favorite from their time in Tennessee, the following offseason. Givens' production fell from 42 receptions as a rookie to 34 in his second season to 11 in 2013 and 10 last year.
'I was not, in any way, disappointed with his progress. He's a great team guy, can really run [and] had some big plays early in his career. Anytime we called on him [and] put the ball up in the air, it seemed like he was making the play," Fisher said. "We just had numbers and ... it was just a good deal for both teams. There was a need there, and we had a surplus."
Givens said he tried to make the best of the St. Louis situation. He focused on being a good teammate and improving his craft. But those who knew him well could tell how much the situation had worn on him.
"He was just frustrated because he had a great rookie season, and after that, he just wasn't out there as much," said Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro, a teammate at Wake Forest. "Chris is a hard worker. I know his work ethic in the offseason is crazy. He's a guy who's always itching to get out there, so I know he was frustrated."
Under the tutelage of Newton, who has trained a number of high-profile athletes, Givens worked on lengthening his stride, improving his jumping ability and strengthening his hands and forearms. Longtime NFL receiver Roy Green provided on-field tutorials. But Givens, according to Newton, made his biggest strides mentally.
"Mainly, the thing that got better is just his belief that he deserves good things to happen to him, and he believes that he has got what it takes to become a superior athlete," said Newton, who was turned on to the wide receiver by Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams, a mentor to Givens since they met in St. Louis. "I told him, 'Chris, your job is to be ready when it comes, and it will come. Don't allow yourself to get down or discouraged because of all this preparation you're doing. No preparation ever goes unrewarded unless you give up on yourself.'"
Givens was certainly not going to do that. He learned about persistence when he tore the anterior cruciate ligaments in each knee in his final two seasons at Wylie High in Texas. Several college coaches told him his football career could be over.
He was reminded about maintaining perspective last Christmas Eve, when Smith-Franklin, his former high school and college teammate, was killed as a passenger in a one-car accident. A couple of days earlier, Smith-Franklin had been spending time with Givens in St. Louis.
Givens changed his number from 13 to 19 this season to honor his friend. Out of respect for Johnny Unitas, the Ravens do not give out No. 19, so when Givens faces his former teammates, he'll be wearing his familiar No. 13.
"I just want to go out there and play well and have a great game," Givens said.