xml:space="preserve">
Wide receiver Torrey Smith, celebrating with fans after a touchdown against the Titans, could be playing his last game in a Ravens uniform today.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith, celebrating with fans after a touchdown against the Titans, could be playing his last game in a Ravens uniform today. (Patrick Smith, Getty Images)

The thought crossed wide receiver Torrey Smith's mind last week following the Ravens' disappointing loss to the Houston Texans.

After playing four seasons for the Ravens, after winning a Super Bowl with them in his second year and after making Baltimore his full-time home, Smith knew he was only guaranteed to wear their jersey one more time.

Advertisement

"As bad as it is not going to the playoffs, that's a horrible feeling knowing that it's a possibility that I might not be here next year," said Smith, who is eligible for free agency following this season. "But I'm not really worried about that. I'm trying to go out, ball out and win this game and see what happens."

When the Ravens (9-6) conclude their 2014 regular season Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium against the Cleveland Browns (7-8), there will be more on the line than just the team's playoff hopes. A team that came together following the Ray Rice scandal, that has been tested by numerous injuries and off-the-field issues, and felt primed to make a postseason run, finds itself with only one more chance to make the playoffs.

In order to capture the AFC's final available playoff spot, the Ravens need to beat the Browns and hope that the San Diego Chargers either lose to or tie the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs announced Friday that quarterback Alex Smith won't play Sunday against the Chargers because of a lacerated spleen. If the Chiefs can't win behind backup quarterback Chase Daniel, the Ravens will be met by a long vacation that arrived way too early and the inevitable changes that every offseason brings.

"It's a long season, but any time, you get to this part of the year and you've grown with people that you're playing with, and you're jelling and everything that goes into it when you get to this part of the year, it's tough," said veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith. "It's a journey, man. It really is. Hopefully, we can keep playing. If not, it [stinks]. We did that last year. We were at home watching. We definitely don't want to do that. We want to be watched."

There was a palpable sense of disbelief in the Ravens' locker room that their season has reached this point. Eight days ago, the Ravens were in playoff position and they had a more favorable schedule than the AFC wild-card hopefuls chasing them.

However, a 25-13 loss to the Texans, coupled by the Chargers' comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers, has the Ravens on the brink of missing the playoffs for a second straight season.

"It's tough to think about the opportunities that we let go, and that's not on anybody's doorstep but our own," said defensive end Chris Canty. "We had some lapses in focus, and we've made some mistakes that have cost us some football games throughout the course of the regular season, and you can't get them back. That's the thing about the National Football League — you only get 16 opportunities in the regular season. You have to take advantage of each and every one of them in order to guarantee that you have an opportunity to play in the postseason. Unfortunately, we haven't done enough thus far to do that, but Sunday presents another opportunity, and we're looking forward to it."

'Change is going to happen'

Two weeks ago, wide receiver Steve Smith made a statement that seems even more applicable now than it did when he said it.

"We win, we keep playing," Smith said. "We lose, change is going to happen."

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said as much following last year's 8-8 campaign, which ended the organization's streak of five consecutive playoff berths.

"I have to be patient to let people fail, but I don't have to be patient enough to let people repeat failure," Bisciotti told The Sun. "I'll be more apt to get my way next year if their solutions don't change the problems. That's fair, that's where I am as owner."

It's been a difficult year for the organization, especially off the field. Five players were arrested. Rice's arrest and eventual release — and the wide-ranging fallout — have cast a shadow over the season, both for the Ravens and the NFL.

On the field, the Ravens have been hit hard by injuries as 18 players, including tight end Dennis Pitta and cornerback Jimmy Smith, are on injured reserve. Standout defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for the final four games of the regular season after he violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

Advertisement

Now, John Harbaugh's team is in danger of squandering a playoff spot for the second straight year despite entering Week 16 in postseason position.

Bisciotti isn't known for making rash decisions and it would be tough to say that the Ravens, who have made the playoffs in eight previous seasons in which they've had double-digit wins, have underachieved, given all the injuries that they've suffered and the off-the-field issues that they've had.

Harbaugh's coaching staff has been altered every offseason since he was hired in 2008, but sweeping change would be surprising. The Ravens' roster, though, is poised for another overhaul.

The Ravens could have as many as 20 unrestricted or restricted free agents following the season. That group includes Torrey Smith, running back Justin Forsett, tight end Owen Daniels, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and kicker Justin Tucker. The Ravens also have some potentially difficult decisions on several high-priced veterans, such as Ngata and cornerback Lardarius Webb.

Many of those players could be playing their last game as Ravens Sunday.

"We're going to do all we can to keep this season going," said McPhee, who has 5 ½ sacks this year and has likely earned himself a lucrative free-agent deal. "After the season is over with, it will probably sink in that a lot of guys could be leaving. Hopefully, we can bring a lot of guys back."

Asked if he'll be thinking Sunday that's he could be playing his last game as a Raven, Torrey Smith said, "You have to be locked in on what's going on — that's winning. … Obviously, all that [other] stuff takes care of itself."

One more distraction

Torrey Smith admitted he'll absolutely be scoreboard watching when he's on the sideline following an offensive possession. His quarterback, however, expressed hope that the Chiefs-Chargers' score won't be flashed at M&T Bank Stadium at all.

"We were in this situation last year, and I don't think we responded or played very well," Joe Flacco said. "So, I'd be disappointed to see us do the same thing again. … There's nothing we can really do about that game, so we shouldn't really be worried about it."

Flacco was referring to the Ravens' season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last season. To make the playoffs, the Ravens needed to beat the Bengals and have a couple of AFC wild-card hopefuls lose. They got the outside results that they needed, but the Ravens didn't take care of their own business, losing to Cincinnati.

The Ravens had months to lament missing the playoffs and they spoke all offseason about being motivated by the failure of the 2013 campaign. A year later, they find themselves in a similar position, fighting to continue their season and knowing change will occur if they don't

Advertisement

"You really don't think about that until that last day," said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "Until then, you're trying to make the use of as many opportunities as you can get. We still have one more game and we still can get in, so that's pretty much all we're thinking about."

Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement