NEW ORLEANS — — Imposing cornerback Jimmy Smith capped a rough season in the best way possible, flashing his potential with two pivotal plays that preserved the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Following a regular season where he missed five games after undergoing sports hernia surgery, losing his nickel back job and being limited to 31 tackles and no interceptions, the 2011 first-round draft pick from Colorado registered an impressive performance in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. It was Smith who broke up a pass intended for 49ers star wide receiver Michael Crabtree on third down near the Ravens' end zone.
On the ensuing play, Smith jammed Crabtree and disrupted his pass pattern in what was a borderline illegal play that wasn't flagged by the officials.
"The fact that I made a couple of plays made me feel great," Smith said. "It propelled us to win the game. It's a great feeling. The first one, Crabtree motioned across the ball and I had watched that on film all week. That's one of their go-to red-zone plays. I left my guy and took Corey Graham's guy and made that tackle. The last one I knew they wanted to get their best receiver on me. I just took away the inside. I was actually calm."
If Smith allows either of those receptions, the Ravens might have lost the football game Sunday night.
"I'm sure it will be a springboard for Jimmy, but how does it get any bigger than the Super Bowl on the last drive?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he made the two plays at the end of the game to win the game. He played great. Jimmy has been practicing very well.
"He finally got healthy at the end of the year there. He was at his best in the last couple weeks. Jimmy is going to be, like we said all along, a great player in this league. I love him. He's really special."
At 6 feet 2, 205 pounds with a strong upper body, Smith is unusually big for his position, with the requisite size and speed of a shutdown cornerback. Smith, though, has lacked consistency.
"That's just what Jimmy does," said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who finished the season on injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. "He's just been battling through injuries and a lot of people get on top of him and want to bring him down, but Jimmy is going to be one of the greatest corners when he gets his chance."
Much more had been expected initially of Smith, who has 49 tackles, two interceptions and 11 pass deflections in two NFL seasons. Perhaps this game will trigger more playing time in the future.
"It's been an up-and-down career so far," Smith said. "To be able to make those plays makes everything better. It makes everything feel great."
Although he won't undergo magnetic resonance imaging exams on his left knee until Tuesday, the prognosis for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata appears to be promising.
Ngata wasn't on crutches at the team hotel Monday and was moving quickly.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, they would be surprised if Ngata has any major ligament damage and are hopeful that it's just a sprained medial collateral ligament.
Baltimore Sun reporter David Zurawik contributed to this article.