OWINGS MILLS – The future significance of Baltimore Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith’s game-winning touchdown catch Sunday night remains to be seen.
The second-round draft pick from the University of Maryland finished off the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final seconds with his 26-yard catch behind cornerback William Gay.
Will the clutch reception after four dropped passes act as a springboard to big plays and more consistent hands going forward?
“This means a lot, man,” veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “It’s a big confidence-booster for him. I knew at one point or another we would come to him for a play. When we did, he came through. It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll definitely take it.”
For Smith, he had to overcome a personal crisis of confidence and hands.
Like many rookie wide receivers, Smith has endured ongoing struggles to adjust to the speed of the NFL.
That was on full display Sunday night.
A few plays prior to his dramatic touchdown, Smith dropped a potential 37-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco on the left side of the end zone.
The resiliency, and the shaky hands, mirrored how his first NFL season has transpired through eight games.
In the first quarter, Smith allowed a deep throw from Flacco to sail through his hands before catching a 29-yarder on the ensuing play.
One quarter later, Smith dropped a routine out pass that could have given the Ravens a first down.
“For me to drop those couple of balls and to have that mess up his rhythm, that was the most frustrating part, just letting him down, my teammates as well, but specifically him,” Smith said. “To keep coming back to me, it meant a lot.
“Anquan had my back. I’ll never forget on the sidelines. I was down after I dropped the ball, the out. I went to the sideline and Anquan was like, ‘Are you with me?’ He just said it as simple as that. He wasn’t cussing me out. He was like, ‘Are you with me?’ That meant a lot.”
In the Ravens’ comeback win over the Arizona Cardinals, a Smith drop deflected to cornerback Richard Marshall for an interception that led to an Early Doucet touchdown to give them a 24-3 lead.
With 48 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, though, it was Smith’s pivotal 36-yard catch on the right sideline that led to Billy Cundiff’s game-winning field goal.
Now, Smith has proven again that he won’t dwell on his miscues or allow his growing pains to hold his team back.
“That’s what football is all about,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s what fighting the fire is all about. You walk through the fire and you come out untouched. You get purified by it, and that’s what he does.
“He walks off to the sideline and our guys do nothing but put their arms around him and tell him, ‘You’re going to make the play.’ That’s why we’re a team.”
Flacco hasn’t shied away from throwing to Smith even when he’s dropping a series of passes.
Nevermore was his patience tested than against the Steelers.
“It’s not my job to get down on Torrey, and it’s not his job, either,” Flacco said. “I could tell he was feeling a little bad about dropping those few, but what are you going to do? If I don’t go to him, I really don’t have anywhere else to go. I have to go to Torrey and I hope he makes the play.
“I have all the confidence in the world in these guys, especially Torrey. He’s a playmaker. When you need to make a big play down the field, he’s the best guy for that. On the last drive, we went to him a couple times and it finally worked.”
Smith was held by Gay on the play with an official calling defensive pass interference, but burst past him any way for the score.
“I was able to run past him,” Smith said. “I saw he was holding on to me a little bit, and he held me a little bit earlier. I saw the ball in there and I saw the flag out of the corner of my eye, so I gave him a little nudge. Joe threw it a little late. I was already down the field. He has a gun.
“That’s something that I have to learn. Even if he has a little pressure, you’ve got to keep running. You can always adjust to it coming back, and at the same time, it was a double move, and I had him beat.”
Making adjustments on the fly is part of the process for Smith overcoming his learning curve.
“I saw Joe scrambling, so I started to slow down,” Smith said. “After I checked to see which way he was going, next thing I know I see the ball, getting bombed. If I would have kept running, the game would have been over a few plays earlier. I made it a little more dramatic than it needed to be.”
So far this year, Smith has caught 20 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns.
Among receivers with more than two catches, he ranks first on the team with a 19.9 average per reception.
Although catching the football consistently isn’t his forte, Smith has made a difference with his speed.
In his first NFL start, Smith caught three touchdown passes against the St. Louis Rams by simply running past overmatched cornerback Justin King.
With veteran wide receiver Lee Evans still sidelined with a lingering left ankle injury, Smith has become a prominent figure in the offense.
“Torrey Smith dropped a few passes, then came back and made another,” running back Ray Rice said. “That’s not skill. That’s all about will and desire. For a rookie to step up that fast this early in his career, that’s special. I always tell Torrey Smith that he was a second-round draft pick for a reason. I was in the same boat as him, and I felt the same way he feels.”
NOTE: Undrafted rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams caught two passes for 28 yards, including a 13-yarder for a first down on the Ravens’ game-winning drive.
“Joe’s an interesting guy, he’ll throw to anybody,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll throw to whoever goes out there. He’s got trust in those guys. That’s just who Joe is, that’s just his personality. If the route calls for the ball to go there, he doesn’t hesitate, and LaQuan came through. His story, obviously that’s kind of where you’re going, it’s a pretty amazing thing.
“I don’t think LaQuan looks at it that way. LaQuan looks at it as he’s a part of this team. He’s going out there, and he’s making plays and he’s doing that. That’s how we look at him too. He climbed the ladder for two of those catches on the sideline. Those were big-time catches that big-time receivers make. You are what you do in this league, and he’s proven it.”