Ravens wideout Steve Smith puts up big numbers in losing cause
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Five-time Pro Bowl star Steve Smith is as good as he's ever been.
The Baltimore Ravens, conversely, have never been worse.
Smith leads the Ravens with 36 catches, 510 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Playing with several broken bones in his back, the 36-year-old caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown last Sunday in a 25-20 loss to San Francisco.
In spite of Smith's play, Baltimore is 1-5 for the first time in the 20-year history of the franchise. Next up is a Monday night game at Arizona.
The Ravens' lackluster performances have taken the shine off what Smith had hoped would be an unforgettable farewell season.
"We're 1-5. That's really what matters," Smith said Wednesday. "At the end of the day, statistics are statistics. But the record is what you're more encouraged and proud of, and right now we're in a deep hole and we've got to dig ourselves out of it."
Smith spent the first 13 years of his career with Carolina before cut. He promptly joined the Ravens and starred last year for a team that reached the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Last August, Smith announced that this season would be his last.
"I enjoy my family, so it's kind of tough to see them in spurts," he said at the time.
Smith had no way of knowing that he would be the lone threat among a receiving corps that lost speedster Torrey Smith to free agency and is still waiting for top draft pick Breshad Perriman to return from a knee injury he sustained on the first day of training camp.
Smith's 36 catches are more than twice the total of the Ravens' other two wide receivers, Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown, both whom weren't even teen-agers when Smith broke into the league in 2001.
"Steve obviously has a lot of talent," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's going to do his thing, he can beat man coverage, he can catch the football. He's going to make plays for us, and we've got to continue to put him in position to do those things
Flacco had to do without Smith in a loss to Cleveland on Oct. 11, but the 15-year veteran wideout showed his grit by returning to face the 49ers.
Asked how he could perform with such a painful injury, Smith replied with a wry grin: "I have a great nutritionist I'm sleeping with, which is my wife. She does a good job of doing the research. She has me on a lot of things, vitamins and stuff that I probably should be taking at my age anyway."
Smith won't play through an injury if he doesn't believe he's going to be an asset.
"What I try to be is a guy that can help us and not hurt us," he said. "If I can't play, I can't play. I'm not going to try to be a liability out there, where all of a sudden we're playing with 10 guys instead of 11 guys."
And just because this is his last season, he's not going to risk permanent damage by playing when he knows he shouldn't.
"You've got to be healthy and you've got to make smart decisions," Smith said. "What's at the end of the tunnel doesn't dictate doing maybe stupid things through your journey."
During his two years in Baltimore, Smith has done more than just catch passes. He's provided veteran leadership in the locker room, a job that rested with linebacker Ray Lewis before he retired in February 2013.
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said of Steve Smith: "He truly tries to help all the players. He tries to help DBs as much as the running backs and receivers. If you look past what he is and what he does, he's truly an amazing leader."
Jimmy Smith can't look past what Steve Smith does on the field, though, because he's never seen anyone do it better.
"I can't just go up there and be physical with him because he's smarter than that. He'll do something to counter that," Jimmy Smith said. "He's probably the best all-around receiver I've faced."