The Baltimore Ravens’ first play from scrimmage Sunday was a pass. Steve Smith caught it, a short pass after a quick move, and took it 17 yards. Later, he scored the Ravens’ first touchdown. He also scored their third.
To say that Smith, who played 13 seasons for Carolina before joining Baltimore, beat the Panthers would be a stretch. He helped. He had 139 receiving yards, the most of any receiver on either team. Nobody else on Baltimore or Carolina scored more than one touchdown.
Smith is 35 years old. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh calls him the oldest player in the history of football.
The Ravens won for a variety of reasons. The Panthers did not rush the passer the way they did when Greg Hardy played defensive end. Because of convictions for domestic violence and communicating threats, which he is appealing, Hardy might never play for Carolina again.
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Of course they miss his work. They also missed superb linebacker Thomas Davis, who was out with an injury.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco had time to throw and Smith had time to get open. The Ravens won easily, 38-10, at M&T Bank Stadium.
The focus, of course, has been on Smith. He is the best player Carolina has ever had. He was jettisoned six months ago, no longer wanted. In the fourth game of the season, Smith’s new team played his old one.
Critics will announce that Smith’s first touchdown was luck. The ball was tipped, with one hand, by Baltimore tight end Owen Daniels. When Smith saw Flacco scramble to his side of the field, he took off sprinting.
“The nose (of the ball) was up so that means it’s going to continue to go,” Smith said. “Then all of a sudden I saw (Daniels) but I was still on my horse running and (Daniels) tipped it, so I caught it. When it tipped, I ran forward. Somebody’s going to have to get it, I guess. So I happened to be there.”
Smith grabbed the ball at the Carolina 40 and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone.
He later caught a more conventional 21-yard pass from Flacco.
Before the game, Smith and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson embraced.
“Nothing but respect and honor,” Smith said, explaining his relationship with his former boss.
Smith warmly greeted several former teammates, among them Ryan Kalil and Jonathan Stewart.
On the field, Smith appeared almost subdued.
“They didn’t deserve anything I would say that would be derogatory,” he said. “I had no need to. They didn’t deserve to have the ball spun on them. I just caught it and put it down and went on about my business.”
With the absence of a pass rush, the Panthers appeared to have nobody who could stay with Smith.
Flacco threw 10 passes to Smith, who caught seven and averaged 19.9 yards per reception.
“He’s always been a relentless guy, a passionate guy,” said Panthers receiver Jerricho Cotchery. “He plays the game the way you would want a lot of people to play. As far as attacking his man, he lines up and says, ‘I’m going to beat you.’ And that’s the kind of guy you like.”
The game never devolved into the sideshow many anticipated. Smith would not allow that. It wasn’t about showing up a former employer. It was about beating him.
After the game a writer asked Smith about the two Super Bowls the Ravens have won.
“The Ravens have two Super Bowls, Carolina has zero,” Smith said. “I went to public school, but two plus zero, I’ll take that. They (the Ravens) understand. They know. And they have the recipe. It says a lot without saying anything, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here.”
After the game Smith approached several Panthers on the field. The warmest moment was an embrace with Carolina receivers coach Ricky Proehl.
“Ricky’s had a very huge significant part in my life as a man and also as a football player,” Smith said. “So it was great to see him and I’ll embrace him because I told him everything I am as a football player and a man he had a big part (of) it.”
Smith will not abandon his past. He’ll appreciate it.
To watch him Sunday is to appreciate what he offers, and to understand why a victory is better than a sideshow.
Steve Smith Week ended the only way it could – with a Baltimore victory.
Sorensen: 704-358-5129; email@example.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen