Cornerback Jimmy Smith physically sank in anguish when he heard Harbaugh deliver the news in the post-game press conference.
Player after player spoke of losing a brother, perhaps the most passionate brother of all.
A gloomy silence fell over M&T Bank Stadium as fans watched Steve Smith carried off the field, obviously unable to use his leg.
If there’s been a consistent joy in this miserable half a season, it has been Smith’s ferocious play in what he said would be the final chapter of his potential Hall of Fame career.
Ray Lewis was at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. As exceptional and enduring a player as Lewis was, he no longer ranked among the Ravens’ best defenders in his final season. That’s the norm, even for the greatest of the great.
Which is why Smith’s performance in 2015 has been so worthy of admiration. Far from a ceremonial leader, he has been one of the 15 or 20 best receivers in football in this, his 15th season. His teammates understand how remarkable that is.
“I look up to the guy,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said.
“An honor,” Harbaugh said of coaching him.
If this was Smith’s final game, he stamped it with a leaping 46-yard catch in heavy traffic. But Harbaugh, for one, did not seem to think we’ve seen the last of No. 89. “He’ll be back,” the coach said, though he hastened to add that was not any kind of official announcement.
Whatever Smith decides, he has marked himself as a Raven to be remembered.