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Injured stars return, make impact against 49ers

Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. beats the 49ers' Kenneth Acker, right, for a 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter at Levi's Stadium.
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. beats the 49ers' Kenneth Acker, right, for a 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter at Levi's Stadium. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

With a subdued smirk inside an otherwise miserable Ravens locker room Sunday at Levi's Stadium, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. said he knew that he'd play Sunday, even though he downplayed his chances when he spoke with the local media on Friday.

"I'm actually smarter than a few of your guys," he cracked.

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With his performance, along with that of injured running back Justin Forsett, Smith proved to a world that already knew as much that he's tougher than most people, too.

Playing 17 days after suffering microfractures in his back against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Smith returned to a Ravens offense whose passing game stagnated last week without him. He led the team against the San Francisco 49ers with seven catches, 139 yards and a touchdown.

Forsett, whose injured ankle also left his status questionable, played through pain to gain 62 rushing yards and 39 receiving.

With their "questionable" designation officially indicating they have a 50 percent chance of playing, according to NFL guidelines, Smith, Forsett, and tight end Crockett Gillmore (calf) accounted for nearly 64 percent of the Ravens' production in Sunday's 25-20 loss.

"You go out there and play," Smith said. "Other guys have injuries that are fighting through it, you know? Win, lose, or draw, you've got to go in there. You can't allow that to be an excuse on why you didn't perform well. Just going out there playing, I wanted to be with my guys and help us win."

The Ravens entered Sunday with more injury concerns than any team would like. Their top running back (Forsett), wide receiver (Smith), tight end (Gillmore), and pass rusher (Elvis Dumervil) flew to California with their status uncertain.

All played, setting a tone that permeated through the locker room. Smith, in particular, was a rallying point, fellow receiver Marlon Brown said.

"He's really putting it on the line for his last year, and for the team," Brown said. "I appreciate that coming from a [veteran] who's out there dying, basically, working hard to make the team happy. I feed off that, other receivers feed off that, and the team feeds off it, as well."

"He's a tough guy, and I wouldn't expect anything less from him," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "[His injury] was never really talked about, and we were very impressed this week.

Smith said he "really didn't think that long and hard" on his presence having an impact on anyone else. Instead, in a room full of veterans preaching accountability, he answered for mistakes on a pair of plays that could have drastically changed the game in the first half.

Early in the second quarter, Smith dropped a touchdown underneath the goalposts that would have given the Ravens an early lead. He could have had a second touchdown later that quarter, too.

"I wish I had a very valid reason that I dropped [the first one], but I just dropped it," Smith said. "The second one, it looked easier than what it was. It may have hit my hands, but my face was in the ground."

Smith admitted to a few times when he thought about his injured back during the course of the game — everyone in purple or with a shred of concern about the veteran in his last season Sunday breathed easier on the plays when he was able to run out of bounds untouched.

Forsett, too, had to fight through pain. Every tackle at the end of his team-high 24 touches carried the risk of re-aggravating the ankle that was rolled up on late in last week's loss to the Cleveland Browns. He practiced just once this week leading up to the game.

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"I had to suck up a little bit of the pain, but that was expected," Forsett said. "I just wanted to go out there and fight for my team."

The Pro Bowl running back's didn't wane much this week, though his production from the past two standout games did. His 3.6 yards per carry were two yards-per-attempt fewer than he'd had in the past few weeks, though he made up for it in the passing game.

Gillmore returned after two weeks out with a strained calf, and said it felt better once he got into the flow of the game. He took a big hit on his second reception of the game, a leaping catch that brought the Ravens into the red zone in the second quarter.

"I prepared to be able to go every rep, and it was just a matter of whether I was going to be able to go today or not," Gillmore said. "I felt good, and had no issues."

Dumervil, who had five tackles and a half-sack, said he didn't know if he could go until he made it through a particularly-ginger early workout on the field. He was the last player remaining in the locker room, his groin needing extra treatment after the game.

"We're all hurting," Dumervil said. "Everybody's feeling something, so you can't make no excuses."

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