OAKLAND, CALIF. — For a second straight game, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. found himself lamenting a late-game touchdown opportunity that could have helped prevent the team's disheartening 0-2 start to the season.
With space near the corner of the end zone and the Ravens driving with just over two minutes remaining in a 30-30 tie against the Oakland Raiders Sunday at O.Co Coliseum, Smith leapt and caught a potential game-winning touchdown pass, but couldn't get feet in bounds.
The Ravens kicked a field goal, but Oakland drove down the field for a game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds remaining.
Smith followed up a two-catch, 14-yard performance in the season opener with a game-high 10 catches on 16 targets for 150 yards and was yet again in position to be the hero. The team's top receiver couldn't catch the potential game-winner in Denver and couldn't make the play in Oakland, either.
"What was my perspective of the play?" Smith said. "He threw it, I caught it, and the referee said I was out of bounds."
"I didn't leave Steve too much room," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It would have made a little difference at the end — they would have had to score a touchdown to send it to overtime."
Before that play, Smith made as big a difference as anyone on the field. After a fumble by receiver Kamar Aiken on the Ravens' opening offensive play, Smith picked up 37 yards on a deep sideline pass over Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden.
He opened the Ravens' next drive with a 22-yard reception, and was a consistent part of the passing game as they erased an early 10-0 deficit to pull even at halftime, 20-20.
In the third quarter, Smith took over. The Ravens' second drive of the second half began with an incompletion to Smith, then two catches from the veteran wide receiver before the drive sputtered out.
On the next drive, with the Raiders leading, 30-20, and the Ravens badly needing a score, Smith caught passes for 14 yards and 12 yards to open the drive and bring the Ravens near midfield, drew a penalty, and was targeted again later in the drive before Justin Tucker brought the Ravens within a touchdown for his third field goal of the game.
Smith was nonchalant about the success, clearly focused more on the final result of the game — and his final involvement in it in the Raiders' end zone — than with how he caught 10 passes for the first time since Oct. 14, 2007, when he did it with the Carolina Panthers against the Arizona Cardinals.
"I just run what we called and try to make a play," Smith said. "They were switching up coverages, doing different things. I'm really not sure."
After those showcase drives in the third quarter, Smith wasn't involved again until that final play, one all-too-similar to the pass they hoped would win the season opener in Denver.
On that play, Smith was open in the left corner of the end zone but saw the ball from Flacco glance off his waiting hands. The game ended when Flacco threw an interception soon thereafter. On Sunday, Smith had a window on the right side of the end zone.
"That was big," coach John Harbaugh said. "That was obviously very important if you do the math. [That's] seven points."
Smith's performance lifted an offense that early in the game tried to get several players involved, though results were mixed.
Ten different Ravens had targets at halftime against the Raiders, six more than the same time last week, with Marlon Brown, Darren Waller, and tight ends Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams involved in the passing game.
Despite the second-half force-feeding of Smith that brought the Ravens back into the game, others had productive days. Aiken finished with five catches for 89 yards, including a 38-yard catch-and-run to get the Ravens out of the shadow of their own end zone on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive. Gillmore had four catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and finished with five receptions and 88 yards.
But for a position group that came into the week under scrutiny for not stepping up alongside Smith in Denver, the end result was fresher on their minds than whether they answered any questions about themselves.
"Steve's going to be Steve," Aiken said. "The rest of us got to just do what we've got to do, do our part. Steve's going to be Steve every week. It's nothing new. We've just got to do our part."