Back in New Orleans, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith excels again

Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith looks for running room after making a catch in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints.
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith looks for running room after making a catch in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints. (Chris Graythen, Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS — Steve Smith stiff-armed New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, separating the defensive back from his helmet Monday night.

The emotional veteran wide receiver then proceeded to charge Vaccaro after Vaccaro threw a wild punch at him, driving the younger player deep into the Ravens' bench area during an altercation that involved multiple players before order was eventually restored.


"He tried to tackle me, and I stiff-armed him to the ground," Smith said. "He threw a punch, and I kind of went after him after that."

It was a trademark moment of feistiness from the combative five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver that ended with Vaccaro being penalized for a personal foul as he retaliated while under attack from Smith. Smith wasn't flagged, and he served notice that he hasn't lost any of his aggressive tendencies.


"That's all I'm here to do," Smith said after the game. "Play ball, have fun and take some people's lunch money in the process. I made a pact with myself that I'd look in the eyes of all my victims before taking their lunch money."

Smith set the tone for the Ravens (7-4) during a game they had to win to keep pace in the ultra-competitive AFC North division as they avoided potentially falling into last place in the division with a loss.

It was classic Smith, as he had a resurgent game Monday night during a 34-27 victory over the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"It's kind of a regular thing for us," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "When Steve gets fired up, we get fired up. Sometimes you got to hold him back. In the end, I think it was worth it."


After generating a season-low 17 yards on three receptions during the Ravens' previous game against the Tennessee Titans, Smith delivered a strong performance against the Saints with four receptions for 89 yards while being targeted six times.

"I just play my game," Smith said. "I'm not trying to compare myself to anybody. I just be myself and play the game and do my job."

That increased production from Smith included an acrobatic 15-yard touchdown catch on a lob from quarterback Joe Flacco in the first quarter to open the Ravens' scoring.

During the touchdown, Smith contorted his body, twisting in the air while falling backward in the end zone to beat Saints cornerback Brian Dixon in the corner of the end zone.

"He made that fade catch down there, that's about as good a catch as you're going to see," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He was tackled while he was making the catch and he still comes down with the football."

On the touchdown, Smith overcame a lot of contact from Dixon to corral the football.

"Joe threw a great ball," Smith said. "I just got to make a play. I tried to keep my feet in bounds and try not to give too much up."

Ending the scoreless drought that had lasted four games, Smith caught his first touchdown pass since an Oct. 12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It marked his 11th touchdown against the Saints in 24 career games against an old NFC South rival.

Smith entered Monday with 99 career receptions for 1,493 yards and 10 touchdowns against the Saints, the most scores he has had in 13 NFL seasons against an individual opponent.

"They don't have to worry about me anymore," Smith said. "They move on and I move on."

Smith got the last word again Monday against the Saints.

Smith earned a measure of revenge against the Panthers in a game he acknowledged was deeply personal for him after being released by Carolina in March before signing a three-year, $11 million contract with the Ravens.

In that game, Smith caught seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

This was another personal game for Smith after struggling in recent weeks to escape press coverage, to break tackles and to elude defenders in the open field.

Against the Saints, Smith competed for extra yards and played with a hard-nosed style that paid dividends for the Ravens.

Smith had combined for just eight catches and 53 yards in his previous two games. And he had only three catches for 35 yards three games ago against the Cincinnati Bengals, when his late touchdown catch was nullified by a controversial offensive pass interference penalty called on him for grabbing and shoving safety George Iloka.

While Steve Smith was working the sidelines and underneath routes, it created extra space for fellow wide receiver Torrey Smith to operate as he caught five passes for 98 yards.

This marked the first time that the Ravens' receiving tandem had both been successful in the same game since their 48-17 rout of the Buccaneers, when Torrey Smith caught two touchdowns and Steve Smith scored once.

This time, Steve Smith manhandled cornerbacks on the perimeter with stiff arms and shoves whileTorrey Smith had a 40-yard reception for his longest reception of the season.

Steve Smith provided a physical presence throughout the game as the Ravens completed a season sweep of the NFC South conference with four victories and no defeats against the Panthers, Buccaneers Atlanta Falcons and Panthers.

Playing against those familiar opponents, Smith has combined for 19 receptions for 405 yards and four touchdowns.

Smith attributed his upgraded play to the self-scouting he did this week with receivers coach Bobby Engram.

"It really means what we're doing, it works," Smith said. "It gives me something to hang my hat on and study and understand and evaluate yourself. It helped a lot a great deal in my improvement because of the time I met with coach Engram."


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