OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith wasn’t hiding his enthusiasm for playing on Monday Night Football as the Ravens are preparing to travel to the Big Easy this weekend to take on the New Orleans Saints.
He knows the entire country will be watching as this was the platform last year in which Smith uttered his now famous post-game phrase, “Ice up, son.”
“You get real excited,” Smith said on Wednesday. “Family members get to see you play. Ex-girlfriends that wished they wouldn’t have dumped you, they’re questioning themselves right now. It’s fun.”
The Ravens hope their top wide receiver will break a few more hearts Monday as he faces an opponent he’s very familiar with going back to his days playing in the NFC South. Entering 2014, his 99 catches, 1,493 receiving yards, and 10 touchdown receptions in 23 career games against New Orleans were more than he had produced against any other team. The Saints’ 24th-ranked pass defense could certainly lend a hand in a happy reunion as well.
The longtime Carolina Panther has continued his success against his old division this season, catching 15 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns in three games against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta. Baltimore would benefit from another huge game in trying to hand New Orleans a third consecutive home loss.
And it would be a comforting rebound for the veteran considering he caught only 11 passes for 88 yards and no touchdowns in the last three games prior to the bye — two of them losses to AFC North rivals.
“If we’re playing the way we want to, then he and everybody are going to be a big part of it,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who downplayed Smith’s recent decline in production. “He’s had some pretty good games against these guys. Obviously, he’s played these guys for a long time, so hopefully when we get there, he feels comfortable and we get him another big game against these guys.”
After recharging from a physical standpoint last week, Smith has been all business returning to Owings Mills this week as he spent more than an hour with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram on Tuesday. The pair watched more than 100 plays together as Smith evaluated his own performance over the first 10 games of the season after posting four 100-yard games to tie a single-season franchise record.
Acknowledging he walked into the film room “kind of down” as he prepared to jot down his critique in a notebook, Smith said he felt encouraged after seeing so much positive while also identifying what he needs to do better. In the midst of his 14th NFL season, Smith leads the Ravens with 49 catches and 728 receiving yards.
“I need to be more dependable in certain areas,” Smith said. “And that falls on me. That doesn’t fall on Joe, doesn’t fall on [offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak], it doesn’t fall on [head coach John Harbaugh], or anybody. That falls directly on me. I’m a professional. I’ve been in this game for a long time. And if you can’t hold yourself accountable, you can’t expect anybody else to do it for you.
“I can’t expect Joe to believe in me that I’m going to win on a route if I haven’t done the proper technique, lined up, and run a route the way it’s suppose to be run for him to depend on me. That falls on me first. And that’s what I did in my bye week — enjoy my family — but I sat back and took some time and said, ‘What am I not bringing to the table, and why am I not doing it?’”
One of those areas to which Smith was referring could have been inside the red zone as the veteran has made just four receptions for 22 yards inside the opponent’s 20 this season. Of course, his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame doesn’t make him the prototypical target for that area of the field, but one doesn’t accumulate 71 career touchdown receptions without at least some production near the goal line.
Despite Smith’s concerns and self-evaluation, the Ravens don’t appear overly concerned as Kubiak acknowledged last week that it falls on his shoulders to keep various weapons involved in the offseason while taking Smith’s recent production in stride with the overall ebb and flow of a 16-game schedule.
Needless to say, Smith and the Ravens are hoping he finishes the season with the same explosiveness in which he started, but some doubts will naturally linger about a 35-year-old receiver.
“I have to always find ways to get guys the ball,” Kubiak said. “I wish I could get them all the perfect amount every week, but those things usually don’t work that way. You have to get all of your play-makers the ball. Steve is doing a good job, and hopefully we get him back on the track that he was on earlier in the year. But he’s playing hard, working hard.”