If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then an emoticon written in eye black is worth at least a few hundred. Which is a good thing for Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a man of few doubts and fewer monologues.
As he took the lectern Sunday night after the Ravens’ 21-0 win over the Tennessee Titans, he had reason to be as happy as the smiley face drawn on his left cheek. A week ago, he had faced question after question following a discouraging loss to the Cleveland Browns in which he’d dropped pass after pass.
In Nashville, Crabtree’s hands were as good as the chicken is hot. He finished with six catches on nine targets for a game- and season-high 93 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t smile particularly wide afterward, but the pregame eye black was as good as him calling his shot: He knew he’d leave everyone satisfied.
“It’s football,” he said. “You know, I say that a lot. I’m going to say that all the time, because that’s what it is. Preparation, working hard at practice and getting back to the basics — that’s my formula.”
The Ravens’ first play under center, from under the shadow of their own goal posts, was a 21-yard pass along the sideline to Crabtree. Quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t think much of the significance of his first throw being to Crabtree, didn’t consider it an olive branch of any kind; theirs is a relationship built to withstand greater struggles, he said.
Crabtree shrugged off a similar suggestion. He said he just plays receiver. He doesn’t call plays.
But coach John Harbaugh helps the man who does, and he knew there was greater meaning to Crabtree’s three first-quarter catches. Speaking last on the podium, after three Ravens had said their piece, he acknowledged that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wanted to make the team’s ballyhooed free-agent signing an early emphasis.
“Marty is great about that,” he said. “Crab wanted the ball. He was on the sideline; he was saying he wanted the ball. … Everybody wants the ball, and I want the guys to want the ball. [Crabtree] got one of the game balls, he and the defense. When you start the game the way he did, he caught a couple huge catches on the sideline — to me, he’s a superstar. He’s a dominant football player, and we know that.”
Both Crabtree and Flacco spoke implicitly and explicitly about their mutual trust, something that many outside the organization could only wonder about entering Sunday’s game. Against a vaunted Titans defense, in another hostile environment, would the quarterback still throw to the receiver with one of the worst drop rates in recent NFL history?
But Crabtree said he knew Flacco trusts him, and Flacco said he knew Crabtree is a “very prideful guy.” Their connection at Nissan Stadium, re-established Sunday after a shaky showing the week before, made for more pleasant conversation afterward.
Such as: What’s the story behind that eye black?
“Enjoy life, smile every day,” Crabtree said. “That’s what I’m doing; that’s what I’m about.”