Hours after the Browns stumbled to a record of 0-3, the Baltimore Ravens displayed the power of players uniting to support a teammate.
The Ravens (2-1) rallied around wide receiver Torrey Smith after his 19-year-old brother, Tevin, died in a motorcycle accident late Saturday night in Virginia. Smith chose to honor his brother by playing Sunday night and finished with a six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens’ 31-30 victory over the New England Patriots.
“You have to know Torrey to really understand it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday during a conference call. “First of all, he’s got very strong faith, very spiritually grounded guy. I think that was probably where he drew most of his strength from. He’s got a great family — his mom and his brothers and sisters — and in some ways that made it tougher because he’s kind of the father figure in the family for all his younger brothers and sisters. He’s just a really mature guy. He’s just a really strong-minded, strong-hearted, mature guy, and it was great to see him have the success that he had.”
Browns coach Pat Shurmur was in awe of Smith’s inspiring performance.
“I’ve got a great deal of respect for what he accomplished,” Shurmur said. “He had an outstanding game and he obviously played that game with a heavy heart. I can’t imagine. I haven’t lost a sibling, thank goodness. I haven’t lost a spouse or a child. I just can’t even begin to imagine what the thoughts are when that happens. I did lose a father, so I do know that feeling, and I’m sure it would’ve been tough for me to function on the day that my father passed.”
Smith, a second-round pick in last year’s draft who has 10 catches for 235 yards this season, is just one of the Ravens’ many weapons thriving in their new no-huddle offense. Quarterback Joe Flacco has completed 71-of-110 passes for 913 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions and a passer rating of 101.1. Running back Ray Rice has 46 carries for 268 yards (5.8 average) and three touchdowns. And, of course, linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed are the leaders of the defense.
The Ravens have won 12 consecutive games at home and are heavily favored to beat the Browns, but they must be on upset alert after an emotionally draining win.
Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun. He discussed the team and its upcoming game against the Browns in the following question-and-answer session:
Q: After edging the Patriots, do you have any sense the Ravens are susceptible to a letdown?
A: “The Ravens have had a tendency in the past to play down to the level of their competition. There was a notable lapse last season against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a Monday night game where they were upset and appeared flat. From being around the Ravens since their big win over New England, I think the team has a strong sense of purpose and will take the Browns seriously since they have had tough games against them in the past. One thing about the Browns is they have some good football players in Joe Thomas, Josh Cribbs, D’Qwell Jackson, Trent Richardson, Greg Little and Ahtyba Rubin, and are a physical team. I think it will be a closer game than people expect.”
Q: What effect, if any, has former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell’s death earlier this month had on the team this season?
A: “On the field, I don’t think Art Modell’s passing had a lasting tangible effect. I do think many of the older players who knew Art and loved him were inspired and wanted to honor him with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. They seemed genuinely fired-up. Some of the younger players didn’t know him as well, but he always had a presence and attended as many practices as his health would allow. He was a fun person to be around, so anyone that got to know him whether they were a player, coach, fan or reporter felt his impact. As far as the franchise itself, many of the old-guard employees who came from Cleveland were visibly affected by his loss and are saddened.”
Q: In what ways have the Ravens improved from last season?
A: “The passing game is markedly improved, much more dangerous. The running game is just as good as ever, but they don’t use it often enough. Defensively, I think a healthier Ed Reed’s tackling and energy are much better than how he finished last season when he was feeling the effects of a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder.”
Q: What are the Ravens’ most glaring weaknesses?
A: “Pass coverage is a major weakness, especially at linebacker where they struggle to gain enough depth in pass drops and react quickly enough to underneath throws or intermediate routes. Ray Lewis has been slow to react. Quarterbacks, especially Tom Brady [of the Patriots], are picking on Cary Williams, the cornerback opposite shutdown corner Lardarius Webb, the Ravens’ $50 million man. The lack of a pass rush without injured NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs is another negative contributing factor to the problems against the pass.”
Q: What should the Browns fear most when they face the Ravens?
A: “The Browns should be really concerned about Ray Rice, who has had some dynamic games against them. They’ll need to defend [tight end] Dennis Pitta, who has emerged as Joe Flacco’s favorite target. Defensively, Ed Reed is capable of baiting Brandon Weeden into mistakes. Lately, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has been an effective blitzer.”
Read Aaron Wilson’s coverage of the Ravens at www.baltimoresun.com/sports. Follow him on Twitter: @RavensInsider. Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.