Jimmy Smith's return looks like it will be delayed until next year as coach John Harbaugh announced Monday that the Ravens' top cornerback probably will not play in Sunday's season finale at the Cincinnati Bengals.
Smith had sat out the past two games after suffering a sprained right ankle near the end of the first quarter of an eventual 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots on Dec. 12. Smith wore a protective boot Friday while walking out of the locker room at the team's training facility in Owings Mills.
"I don't think so," Harbaugh said Monday when asked if Smith will play on Sunday. "It's a high ankle, and he probably won't be able to make it for this week. We were hoping for the playoffs."
With the Ravens out of playoff contention, Smith's return is no longer necessary. His presence, however, would have been welcomed in Sunday's 31-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (24-of-33 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (10 catches for 96 yards and the game-winning score).
Still, the secondary fared decently against the Steelers. According to Pro Football Focus, the top four graded defensive players were free safety Lardarius Webb (84.4), rookie cornerback Tavon Young (68.3), strong safety Eric Weddle (60.6), and nickel back Jerraud Powers (60.0).
Right tackle Rick Wagner suffered a concussion during the third quarter and missed the entire fourth quarter as he was in the NFL's concussion protocol. Harbaugh was not asked whether Wagner, who was replaced by James Hurst, would be available for his 15th start of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, and the league has asked general managers and coaches to refrain from discussing players who have concussions.
Steve Smith Sr.'s farewell: Sunday's game figures to be an emotional one for the 11 players who will be unrestricted free agents in the offseason — maybe especially so for wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.
Smith said before this season, his 16th, that it will be the last of his career. It's unclear if that's still the case.
At age 37, Smith leads the Ravens in touchdown catches (five) and ranks second in receiving yards (765) and third in receptions (67).
With seven catches for 79 yards and a score in Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh, Smith climbed over former St. Louis Rams standout Isaac Bruce on the NFL's career list for receptions. Smith now has 1,028 grabs, passing Bruce's total of 1,024 catches.
Harbaugh acknowledged the significance of Sunday's game against the Bengals for Smith.
"I think for Steve, it's going to be a big deal for him," Harbaugh said. "But he's been that way all year. I think he'll approach it the same way he has all year, as a pro. It will be very meaningful, certainly. How could it not be?"
End zone: If Brown hadn't stretched his left arm and the ball across the goal line with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh said he did not know whether Pittsburgh would have had enough time to return to the line of scrimmage and either get the snap off for another play or spike the ball to stop the clock. "I can't say," he said. "That would be a good question for them. It would have been tough. It was nine seconds when the clock stopped when it was across the goal line, and you've got to untangle and get everybody to the line of scrimmage. It would have been very challenging to do that. Maybe they could have pulled it off, but we would have had probably a pretty good chance there of that not happening if it had gone the other way. I don't want to speak for them. Maybe they could have done it."
… The loss to the Steelers marked only the second time this season that the Ravens had three trips to the red zone in which they failed to score a touchdown. The offense's 2-of-5 success rate inside Pittsburgh's 20 matched the same number in a 27-23 loss at the New York Giants on Oct. 16, and the unit's inability to turn those opportunities into touchdowns played a significant role in the outcome. "You've got to be better than that," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "You've got to score more touchdowns. But at the end of the day, the game was what it was, and we felt like we had it within grasp, but just didn't finish."
… Sunday's game was the most-watched NFL Network-only, regular-season game, the channel announced Monday (the game was available on another channel in just Pittsburgh and Baltimore). Last night, 14.8 million viewers watched, shattering the previous high of 10.7 million for the Ravens' 16-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night on Nov. 24, 2011. The viewership number was an 81 percent increase from last year's NFL Network-only game between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 26, 2015. According to the channel, viewership peaked at 18.5 million viewers between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m.