Chapter 11: Fall forward and the story of Torrey Smith

January 21, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

up here. It helped me out a lot. It means a lot not just for us as a team but for my family. That’s for my little brother.”

Harbaugh had always preached that the Ravens were an extended family. They always break their team huddles with the word “family.” In times of tragedy – like when Ed Reed lost his brother two years earlier and when other players and coaches were struggling with loss – the unity of the team has been a huge source of comfort in Owings Mills and through the organization.

“It’s a true family,” Smith said after the game. “That’s the greatest thing about this game. It brings a lot of men together that come from a lot of different circumstances, and they create a brotherhood. That’s the Ravens’ culture. The only thing that separates us is blood.”

Flacco, who is the oldest of his siblings, marveled at Smith’s resiliency and effort. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t imagine what he’s going through. I have a lot of brothers and a sister myself. To come out and play is one thing, but to stay focused like that is special. For all of the guys who rallied around him and tried to bring him up, it’s unbelievable. It was awesome, really special. You could hear it in the crowd here today and they were letting him know. The fans of Baltimore rallied around him. He’s a great kid, one of the best I’ve ever been around. You really feel for him.”

Meanwhile, lost in the high drama of the last-second win, Smith’s sadness and a controversial field goal call, the officiating was once again atrocious – equally on both sides of the field – and it wasn’t lost on Belichick. “I’m not going to comment on it. You saw the game. What did we have, 30 penalties called in that game?” he said. Actually, there were only 24 penalties whistled, but two days later the NFL and the officials came to terms and the replacement referees were thankfully headed back to their Saturday afternoon, low-level collegiate, and high school games in their home areas.

It was an ugly three weeks for the NFL and integrity, as anyone who witnessed the confusion and poor performance could attest.

Now, Baltimore had less than four days to prepare for a Thursday night home matchup with the Cleveland Browns, which is an unwinnable winnable game in some ways. The Ravens almost never lose to the Browns, and during the Harbaugh-Flacco-Rice era they entered undefeated, winning eight straight back to 2007.

But it’s almost unfair. If you beat the Browns, you were supposed to beat the Browns. And if you didn’t beat them by enough, fans would ask questions and pick apart the mistakes. And if you lost to the Browns, well…

It was a thankless task, but Harbaugh annually said the right things before these games against Cleveland. Sometimes the Ravens didn’t bring their prettiest effort. The Browns entered the game 0-3, and were led by head coach Pat Shurmur, one of Harbaugh’s best friends in the sport, and a guy who at one point was a strong candidate to be on the Baltimore staff when Harbaugh first got the job in 2008.

The Ravens were honoring former running back Jamal Lewis during halftime as their 2012 entrant into the Ring of Honor, and it turned out to be a better night to run the ball than throw it. A driving rainstorm began in the first half and it steadily pounded the field all evening, but that didn’t slow down the passing game. In general, these Thursday night games, a financial concoction of the NFL league offices that are made for the NFL Network and television, never feature the best fundamental football. Both teams are still physically recovering from Sunday’s pounding, and there’s not enough time to properly install a game plan on either side of the ball. These two teams knew each other pretty well and the game was a typical slop fest.

The referees took the field to a standing ovation