Moments after hauling in the 26-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco with eight seconds left in the game, WR Torrey Smith jumped to his feet and was mobbed by his teammates upon returning to the sidelines. The Baltimore Ravens were bout to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-20 after an amazing 92-yard drive that completed the two-game season sweep of their AFC North rivals.
The rookie caught five passes for 71 yards on the day, but obviously none more important than the last one. However, it might have been a lot different week for the rookie from Maryland had he not came down with that final reception. Smith's previous four catches in the game totaled 45 yards, nothing spectacular if seen in the box score. What was noticeable is that Smith was targeted by Flacco a total of nine times in the game and had he held onto even one more pass during the game, his and Joe's last second heroics might not have been necessary.
Twice during the game, including four plays earlier on the game-winning drive, Flacco threw deep to an open Smith. The first time, earlier in the game, the ball glanced off Torrey's fingertips, just out of reach but perhaps a catch-able ball. The other time, with 42 seconds remaining in the game, Flacco threw a perfect strike to Smith that could only be described as "clanking" off Torrey's hands for an incompletion.
Perhaps Torrey was so confident that he could win the game at the last second that he just let that ball drop to the ground. Perhaps he surmised that if he held onto the ball for a TD with 42 seconds left in the game, that would give Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger enough time to drive his offense down the field for a game-tying field goal and send the game into overtime with a different outcome? Knowing Torrey,.....perhaps not. He just dropped the ball.
One play, one catch, a huge win for the Ravens. Torrey Smith was involved in only nine of those plays, garnering five receptions. Five catches, none obviously anywhere near as important as the team's final offensive play of the game. One play out of 77 offensive snaps totally changed the current and perhaps future outlook on a fine young man in his first season of what should be an excellent NFL career.
But what might have happened had he not made the catch, had Flacco not thrown to him and the Ravens had lost the game? The outcry of the public over his dropped passes could have had a devastating effect on his fragile psyche. Sure, his coaches and teammates would have put their collective arms around him and supported him in public. But the fans would have crucified him around town, on local sports talk radio, in print and around the web.
How would Flacco have handled that type of outcome is hard to say. He proved he still had confidence in Torrey by even throwing his way just four plays after he dropped what could have surely been the game winner. Would he had still felt the same in the future had the Ravens lost that game? Would the media and fans be clamoring for an immediate return of veteran WR Lee Evans, who has not played since the beginning of the season? Certainly, at the least, everyone would be questioning Smith's NFL "readiness" and wonder why fellow rookie WR and seldom seen Tandon Doss wasn't being given a chance to do what Smith couldn't.
Luckily, most of this will not be a need to worry about, as Smith might not have the best hands, but is certainly good enough to get open over and over and while he might drop a few passes along the way, he will be that deep threat that the Ravens have so desperately needed for years now. The return of Lee Evans is not quite as immediate concern than perhaps it initially was, but the thought of both Smith and Evans on the field at the same time, along with WR Anquan Boldin, much less with tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta as well as RB Ray Rice, should make every Ravens fan giddy with anticipation.
For now, everyone, especially Torrey should wipe those beads of sweat off their brows and be thankful that the "what if" scenario above never came true as Smith turned from "goat" to "hero" in just one single, yet huge play.