Chapter 11: Fall forward and the story of Torrey Smith

January 21, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

in Westmoreland County, Virginia earlier in the evening. The news hit Baltimore sports fans at breakfast, and by the middle of the day most believed that Smith would be unavailable to play against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.

One can only imagine the grief the second-year emerging star was feeling that day. Smith, immensely popular with his teammates and the club’s first Twitter star, always prided himself on his ability to overcome adversity, but no one really expected him back on the field that night.

James Torrey Smith, was born in Richmond on January 26, 1989 to Monica, a 16-year old single mother who was 15 when she became pregnant by a 25-year military man. Torrey was just 5.6 pounds when he was born, jaundiced and suffering from meningitis. He spent the first 10 weeks of his life in an incubator struggling for survival. His mother had three more children before her 20th birthday, and Torrey became the man of his household at the tender age of 4. He made the cereal and learned to use the microwave to feed his siblings. Smith had spent a lifetime as the man of his house, changing diapers, doing laundry, making meals, and getting his brothers and sisters to school on time. His mother met a man who took the family to Minnesota during his adolescence, where he excelled at baseball. But it was football that Smith enjoyed the most, playing quarterback, defensive back, and kick returner at Stafford High near Fredericksburg, after his mother left the cold, Midwest to return to Virginia.

Recruited by Virginia Tech and Virginia, Smith chose Maryland because it was close to home and because they still believed in him after he suffered a broken leg in his junior year. After redshirting in 2007, he played extensively for three seasons and became the Ravens second-round pick in 2011, after catching 67 passes for 1,055 yards in his junior year at College Park. Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen once described Torrey by saying, “The good Lord made a perfect person right there.”

He had seen and survived a life full of violence in his youth, and his mother spent much of his junior year of college incarcerated due to violence, and now in the middle of the night his baby brother was gone.

Smith sent a text to Harbaugh saying that he was coming to play and returned to the Ravens late in the afternoon, reporting to the stadium ready to for pre-game warmups. “If you’re around athletics, I guess you feel like it’s an escape, an opportunity to do what [Smith] does,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been doing it his whole life; he knows what to do. When Torrey said he wanted to play, the decision was finished. He was going to get the opportunity to play, he deserved that.”

The Ravens were battered early, as Flacco’s second pass of the game was picked off by Steve Gregory and Brady ripped the defense for 13 unanswered points in the first quarter. Flacco answered, finding Smith in the end zone on a 25-yard TD pass and then marched back down the field to find Dennis Pitta on a 20-yard TD strike to take a 14-13 lead. Brady got the ball back with 1:47 left in the first half and led a masterful nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Julian Edelman 7-yard TD reception to give the Pats a 20-14 halftime lead.

The game went back and forth all night.

Flacco drove the Ravens down the field quickly in the third quarter, taking the lead on a Ray Rice 7-yard TD run. Brady answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Danny Woodhead 3-yard TD run. With the score 30-21 in the fourth quarter, the Patriots defense stonewalled Bernard Pierce on a 4th & 1 run from the 33 that ended a drive, but the Ravens got the ball back with 7:29 remaining still down by nine points.

Victims of the poor replacement officiating the previous week, the Ravens benefitted from a defensive holding penalty by Brandon Spikes on Pitta that nullified a sack by Chandler Jones, brother of Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones. Flacco hit Smith for his second TD of the night on the next play, and the deficit was cut to 30-28 with 4:01 left.

The Ravens would now need their defense to stop Brady, something that had been very difficult all night long.

Brady was quickly intercepted by Lardarius Webb on a pass intended for Wes Welker, but was flagged for defensive holding, and the Patriots kept the ball. But on a 2nd and 9 from the 44, Dannell Ellerbe and Haloti Ngata enveloped Brady on a sack, and the Pats had to punt the ball back to the Ravens with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter.

Flacco had been here before, nine months earlier in Foxborough in the AFC Championship Game, but this time a field goal would win the game, not tie it.

Starting at his 21, Flacco hit Pitta twice for 23 and 17 yards. He got a pass interference call on Devin McCourty on a deep ball on the right side intended for Jacoby Jones at the 7. Flacco took a knee and burned the clock allowing Justin Tucker to come on for his first chance