A Ravens defensive back had three tackles and a crucial second-half interception which resulted in seven points and jump-started a Ravens run. But that player wasn’t Ed Reed.
A wide receiver recorded six catches for 165 yards (the third most in a game in franchise history) and the game’s decisive touchdown. But that player wasn’t Anquan Boldin.
A defensive end had three tackles, two quarterbacks hits and a sack on fourth-and-goal in the final minute which secured a Ravens victory. But that player wasn’t Terrell Suggs.
Three Ravens rookies stepped today, as first-round pick Jimmy Smith, second-round pick Torrey Smith and fifth-round pick Pernell McPhee all made major contributions down the stretch to help the Ravens emerge with a victory over the Bengals.
In crunch time for Baltimore, it wasn’t the veteran Pro Bowl players on the Ravens’ roster that shined brightest. It was the 2011 rookie class.
“Guys stepped up and made a lot of plays, from Torrey to McPhee on down the road,” wide receiver Lee Evans said. “Jimmy with the big interception. A lot of the young guys stepped up and made plays.”
For Jimmy Smith, today served as another step in his progression as a pro. The Colorado product played the most significant minutes of his career, and his interception of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton late in the third quarter (the first pick of his career) helped boost the Ravens’ lead from three to 10.
Now, he just needs to learn to protect the football and not put it on the turf immediately after he makes a big play.
“It was a Cover-2 call inside,” Smith said. “He tried to run an inside (route). As soon as I looked, the ball was there. I wanted to show my returning skills a little bit, and (the ball) came out. The next time, I’m going to hit the sidelines.”
While this in some ways was Jimmy Smith’s coming out party, Torrey Smith already had his first big showcase game back in Week 3 against the Rams. Today, however, Smith topped his yardage total from that win over St. Louis, and shined from start to finish.
The second-round pick lived up to his reputation as a big-play receiver, posting 49- and 28-yard grabs in the second quarter, a 22-yard reception in the third quarter and a 38-yard touchdown grab in the final stanza. That scoring strike stood up as the game-winner.
“My receivers coach, Coach (Jim) Hostler is always like, ‘You don’t understand how rare it is to get behind someone,’ ” Smith said. “So when it happens, you have to take advantage of it. I was focusing this week on my eyes, just focusing on the ball, looking it all the way in. It paid off, just running, trusting Joe (Flacco’s) arm, knowing he’s going to put it there.”
The Smith boys helped set the Ravens up for a big division win, and a third rookie helped bring it home.
McPhee, a guy who is starting to look like one of the steals of the 2011 Draft, came up huge on Cincinnati’s final two shots at a game-tying touchdown with under a minute left in the game.
On a third-and-17, McPhee pressured Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, forcing a hurried pass which harmlessly fell incomplete. Then on fourth down, McPhee again timed his rush and burst around the edge, sacking Dalton and effectively ending the game.
“I kept watching the play clock, and I saw they kept letting the play clock run down to five seconds. They kept snapping the ball (on five seconds), and I saw it wind down to five seconds and I got a good get-off,” McPhee said. “I knew they were going to snap it because every time he tapped (the center’s) hip, he looked over and snapped it. So I just timed it up real good.”
This was far from a three-man show; the Ravens got contributions from players up and down their entire roster and earned this win as a team. But games like this have to make a team’s front office personnel proud.
Not only are the guys that they drafted and invested in coming through with big plays in crucial spots, they’re doing so just 10 games into their pro careers.