Jimmy Smith could have ducked the media. He could have taken his belongings, changed in the dressing room, and left without saying a word. He could have issued a series of terse “No comments” and been left alone.
But in the aftermath of the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the eighth-year NFL cornerback stood under the lights in front of his locker and blamed himself for the setback.
“Definitely frustrating,” he said. “I had some penalties on me. Just didn’t play my game today, and I felt frustrated because I feel like I’m the one that lost that game at the end.”
Much of the talk after the game centered on the first extra-point miss of kicker Justin Tucker’s NFL career that could have tied the score at 24 with 24 seconds left and presumably sent the game into overtime. But Smith clearly felt as responsible as his teammate.
Making his first start of the season, for the injured Marlon Humphrey (thigh), in his third game since returning from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, Smith was flagged twice for pass interference and surrendered several big plays, including wide receiver Michael Thomas’ 5-yard touchdown catch that contributed to New Orleans’ win.
On the touchdown, Smith lined up across from Thomas, who was right of the offensive formation. Thomas ran up and then in and got enough separation to catch a dart from quarterback Drew Brees for the touchdown that gave the Saints a 21-17 lead with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter.
The snap counts for the game won’t be publicized until Monday, but it appeared that Smith — who sat out the final four games of last season after tearing his left Achilles tendon Dec. 3 — took on his biggest workload of the season. But the 30-year-old cornerback declined to say exhaustion was a factor.
“I’m going to be 100 percent out there and ready to go every week,” he said. “There’s no excuses, there’s no ‘my Achilles,’ none of that. Just time to play ball.”
Especially grating to Smith were the pass interference penalties. His first transgression occurred on the first play of the second quarter when Brees overthrew Thomas along the right sideline but replays showed Smith pulling on Thomas’ arm.
The second call came on second-and-goal at New Orleans’ 5 when he got caught on a pick play in the end zone. On the ensuing play at the 1, Brees found tight end Benjamin Watson for the touchdown.
Despite arguing that the Saints player ran into him, Smith chastised himself for the penalties.
“A couple penalties that I had kept drives alive,” he said. “I was really frustrated and that one really frustrated me. I didn’t think I was in the wrong, but clearly I was.”
On that same drive, Smith whiffed on a sack of Brees and then gave up a 32-yard reception to Thomas on an out-and-up. And wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith made a 26-yard catch against Smith in the third quarter.
“My first time ever,” he said of being unable to get the sack. “I saw him and I missed him.”
Athletes in team sports have become almost robotic in refusing to cast blame on a single player for a setback. But Smith said he needs to improve before Sunday’s road game against the Carolina Panthers.
“Honestly, we just didn’t play the game that we should have on defense, and I’m accountable for a lot of that,” he said. “We’ll go back next week, and we’ve got a good team on the road. So we’ve got our hands full, and we’ve got to get that win.”
It is unclear whether Humphrey’s thigh will heal quickly enough for him to play Sunday at the Carolina Panthers. But nose tackle Michael Pierce said he trusts that Smith will bounce back.
“Before he got hurt, the dude was an All-Pro corner,” he said. “With that being said, he’s a great vet, and he will find his way. So I’m not worried about him.”