BALTIMORE – Not even Torrey Smith can run fast enough to leave behind his flowing dreadlocks.
The Baltimore Ravens’ speedy rookie wide receiver was yanked down from behind by his long hair in the second quarter as Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones tackled Smith unconventionally, and legally.
And Smith’s record-setting day that included six receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown during the Ravens’ 31-24 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium was overshadowed by the unusual play.
“That was my first time having that happen, I was in shock,” Smith said. “I started to pull away. I thought I was going to score. Next thing I know, I was getting dragged down by my dreads. It didn’t hurt at all.”
It wasn’t a penalty, though, as NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson affirmed in the press box. A player’s hair is regarded as part of their uniform.
At first, Smith thought he had lost some of his hair.
“I guess their running back [Bernard Scott] lost a few dreads on the field, and I knew it wasn’t my dreads,” Smith said. “We were actually standing by it and they were like, ‘Torrey, did you lose a few dreads.’ No, I didn’t lose anything.”
Perhaps Smith just needs a haircut.
“We had that conversation on the sideline,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He just has to run faster, to outrun the dreads.”
Smith was more than fast enough on his 38-yard touchdown catch fourth quarter that staked the Ravens to a 31-14 lead that provided the decisive margin.
Smith broke the Ravens’ franchise record for rookie receiving yards with 590 gained through 10 games, topping Mark Clayton’s previous mark of 471 yards six years ago.
He set career-highs for catches and yardage.
And it marked the third-highest receiving yardage in franchise history behind Qadry Ismail (258 yards, Dec. 12, 1999) and Derrick Alexander (198 yards, Dec. 1, 1996).
“Torrey is getting better each week as a wide receiver,” Flacco said. “He did a great job, and he is a real difference for this offense against that team. They’ve been able to get some pressure on us with their coverage, lock us up pretty tightly and get some pressure with their front four in past years. With Torrey out there, he definitely has some speed and can hurt them in man-to-man coverage. That helped us out.”
Smith also beat cornerback Nate Clements with a head fake and his feet for a 49-yard reception that led to running back Ray Rice’s first touchdown.
“He stretches the field for us,” Rice said. “You’ve got to play us honest. The thing that he’s added to his game is he’s catching underneath routes now. And that’s big for us. Teams are going to notice that.”
In the second half, Smith ran past the Bengals’ two-deep coverage to create separation. He tapped both feet in the back of the end zone, displaying sound form.
Although Smith has played well this year, including a game-winning touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers and three touchdowns against the St. Louis Rams, he has been plagued by inconsistent hands.
Not on Sunday, though, as the former University of Maryland standout caught six of seven passes thrown in his direction.
“He’s becoming a good one,” Flacco said. “He is going to continue to get better and better as the year goes on. Part of that is dealing with a little bit of growing pains and having a breakout.”
At this time, the second-round draft pick doesn’t plan on getting a shorter haircut.
He’s literally too attached.
“I honestly thought about it, but my grandma likes it too much,” Smith said. “I’m a mama and grandmama’s boy, at least for now.”
RICE BACK ON TRACK: One week after barely touching the football in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Rice was involved heavily.
Rice generated the 11th 100-yard rushing game of his career, gaining 104 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 20 carries against the Bengals’ second-ranked run defense.
The Ravens ran the football 28 times and passed it 27 times after attempting 52 throws in Seattle as Rice rushed for 27 yards on five carries.
“It’s no surprise,” Rice said. “You see the balance. The run sets up the pass. The pass sets up the run. As long as we play balanced football going forward and the running game being a big part of it, I think we’ll be pretty successful.”
Rice has rushed for a single-season career-high of eight touchdowns.
He also caught five passes for 43 yards.
“Ray is a great running back,” Bengals safety Reggie Nelson said. “We knew coming into this game that stopping Ray is what we had to do. We just have to do a better job of doing it.”
FIRST INTERCEPTION: It was a mixed bag of results Sunday for rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith.
The imposing first-round draft pick intercepted his first NFL pass in the third quarter, but fumbled it when he was stripped from behind by Jerome Simpson with linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo recovering the loose football.
Smith recorded three tackles, one interception and a pass deflection.
“It was a Cover 2 call inside, he tried to run inside,” Smith said. “As soon as I looked, the ball was there and I wanted to show my returning skills a little bit and it came out. The next time, I’m going to hit the sidelines.”
And Smith also was beaten by Andre Caldwell in the fourth quarter for a 49-yard touchdown.
“I learned a long time ago, this is the NFL,” Smith said. “You get beat, and you make plays. They get paid, too. He’s going to make a play. We ran an all-out blitz. We’re thinking something fast, and he ran a fade.”
This marked Smith’s most extended playing time on defense this season after missing several games with a left high-ankle sprain.
“It felt amazing to get out there and contribute to the team,” Smith said. “It was such a long time being out. It felt great. It felt good to play some more and show your skills.”
Smith operated out of the nickel package primarily.
“Jimmy came in and made a great play,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “He really grew up. He started it all off by getting a pick at the perfect time.”
EVANS RETURNS: Veteran wide receiver Lee Evans returned to play for the first time in seven games after being sidelined with a left ankle injury that has hampered him since the preseason.
“It feels good,” Evans said. “No setbacks. I’m still a work in progress, but health-wise at least I feel good being out there. It’s definitely exciting to be back out there. I’m prepared to go back in for two plays or 50 plays.”
Evans saw limited playing time and didn’t catch a pass while being targeted once on an errant deep pass from Flacco.
“It was close, but we’ll be able to get that timed up a little better down the road,” Evans said. “There’s still a lot more football to be played.”
Evans said he’s on track to play Thursday against the San Francisco 49ers.
“Yeah, no doubt,” he said. “I’ll be ready to play, and it should be an exciting game.”
CLOONEY IN THE HOUSE: Actor George Clooney and his girlfriend, Stacy Keibler, took in the Ravens’ game Sunday with retired Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden posting a photo he took with the Hollywood star on his Twitter account.
Keibler is a former Ravens cheerleader and WWE star who attended Towson University and starred on Dancing with The Stars.
“You kno its love when your boyfriend has elbow surgery 2 days ago and takes u to a #ravens game…especially when he’s a Bengals fan," Keibler wrote on her Twitter account.
Clooney is a native of Kentucky, so being a Bengals fan makes sense geographically.
LINEUP LOOP: The Ravens deactivated wide receiver and kick returner David Reed one week after he lost two fumbles on kickoffs.
The Ravens also scratched wide receiver Tandon Doss, cornerback Chykie Brown, running back Anthony Allen (hamstring), middle linebacker Ray Lewis (toe), outside linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion).
Lewis’ streak of 57 consecutive games ended.
The Bengals played without rookie wide receiver A.J. Green due to a hyperextended right knee and was replaced by Andre Caldwell.
They also scratched safety Robert Sands, linebacker Dontay Moch, offensive guard Clint Boling, offensive tackle Anthony Collins, tight end Donald Lee and wide receiver Ryan Whalen.
Jones started in place of Kelly Jennings at right cornerback.
NO INJURIES: The Ravens reported no major injuries after the game.
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe tweaked an existing groin injury, and kick returner Tom Zbikowski has a sore leg.
Zbikowski was shaken up early in the game and Chris Carr came in the game, but had no returns.
SURE HANDS: Zbikowski didn’t fumble on his lone kickoff return despite being crushed by Bengals safety Taylor Mays.
The return went for 26 yards.
“I figured I wanted to get the nerves out,” Zbikowski said. “It was a gray area whether I wanted to return it, but I wanted to get things going a little bit. I took a nice little bit, but I figured that was going to be the best shot they’d give out all day.
“All I was thinking was hold on to it. I just wanted to hold on to it and see what happens. I wasn’t worried about scoring a touchdown. I just wanted to get a feel for it again.”
QUICK HITS: The Ravens improved to 57-1 when they have at least a plus-2 turnover margin. The Ravens were plus-2 against Cincinnati and are plus-3 for the season after intercepting three passes. … Flacco has now fumbled an NFL-high 10 times, losing five. .. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson started his 74th consecutive game, setting a new franchise record. He has played in 123 consecutive games, another team record. His starting streak ranks second among NFL active linebackers behind Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher’s 173 games. … The Ravens have scored at least 30 points in five of seven wins this season. They’re averaging 25.6 points at home, which is on pace to set a team record of 410 points in a season. … Flacco has won 15 of his past 16 home games, completing 60.9 percent of his throws in those games for 3,877 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions for a 98.3 passer rating. … The Ravens game captains were Rice and safeties Bernard Pollard and Haruki Nakamura.