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Ravens WR Smith beats defensive backs, adversity

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Ravens WR Smith beats defensive backs, adversity

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) On game day, Torrey Smith is a whirlwind of dreadlocks, speed and big-play catches.

None of this provides a hint of the hurdles he had to overcome to become the deep threat the Baltimore Ravens needed to make it to the Super Bowl.

After helping his single mother raise six other children, a chore that included working after school as a teenager, Smith accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland. He played three seasons, scoring 22 touchdowns - including three on kickoff returns - before throwing his name into the mix for the 2011 NFL draft.

Smith was selected in the second round by Baltimore, and as rookie he quickly displayed the ability to get downfield although his inexperience resulted in several costly dropped passes.

Early this season, Smith ran sharper patterns and rarely let a ball slip through his fingers. But tragedy struck less than 24 hours before the Ravens faced New England on Sept. 23: Smith's younger brother, Tevin Jones, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Virginia.

Smith left the team to join his family, then returned to catch six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns to help Baltimore earn a 31-30 victory.

``Incredible,'' teammate Jacoby Jones said last week. ``I'm not sure many people could perform under those circumstances, let alone play so well. I really do admire him for that.''

Smith finished the regular season with eight TD catches and ranked fourth in the NFL with 17.4 yards per reception. In the second round of the playoffs, he twice burned standout cornerback Champ Bailey for long scores in the Ravens' 38-35 playoff win over top-seeded Denver. Smith then contributed four catches for 69 yards as Baltimore defeated New England 28-13 to advance to a Super Bowl showdown with San Francisco this Sunday.

Smith revealed after the AFC title game that several Patriots fans took to insulting him on Twitter.

``Played a lot of games since my brothers death and I never received as many rude tweets after a win than Sunday...yet NE fans cry about class,'' he tweeted.

Asked in New England how the Ravens emerged as conference champions despite being decided underdogs, Smith replied, ``It's who we are. That's what our city is, a tough city. You get knocked down, you've got to get back up. That's how life is. You just can't lay down and roll over. You've got to continue to fight.''

And so it is with Smith.

``We talk about the cauldron of competition and the fire that refines us. To me, Torrey is the perfect example of how the right kind of person is made of the right kind of stuff,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``He's one of those rare players where there is no agenda. He just wants to know what's expected of him, so he can do the best he possibly can. He's not trying to fool you, he's not trying to impress you. He's just trying to be himself.''

For Smith to be at his best this season, it was important that he moved on after his brother's death.

``That's life. That's so long ago,'' Smith said with shrug Saturday as he packed his bags for a trip to New Orleans. ``That happens to everyone. Someone has someone pass, and you've just got to move on. I'm just focused on playing football.''

When Smith opted to leave Maryland before his senior year, his coach at the time, Ralph Friedgen, wasn't sure if it was the right decision. Friedgen no longer has any doubt that the 6-foot, 200-pound speedster has what it takes to be great.

``I see his hands improving and I see someone very confident in what he does,'' said Friedgen, who was fired after the 2010 season. ``When you can beat a guy like Champ Bailey twice, that can only help your confidence. Around the league, everyone knows that to beat the Ravens, you have to stop Torrey.''

Before Smith arrived, Harbaugh was desperate for a receiver that could get behind opposing safeties. Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, T.J. Houshmandzahdeh, and Donte Stallworth did so on occasion, but Smith has seemingly made it a habit.

Although his 49 catches were one fewer than last season, Smith increased his yardage from 841 to 855 and had 16 catches of 20 yards or more.

``It's definitely a process,'' Smith said. ``I don't think I am surprised, because with hard work you expect to do well, and you expect to continue to get better. I never get complacent. I have a long way to go, and I'm trying to work each and every day to get there. Later, down the line, there will be some trouble.''

Friedgen has no doubt.

``Once we got him at Maryland, he hadn't played much at wide receiver,'' the former coach said. ``But I thought he had the physical tools to be very good football player, and I was right. There's a learning curve in the NFL, because defensive backs can stay with you like a shadow. But Torrey has overcome that, and I don't think he's finished growing yet.''

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Ravens' fan-favorite Justin Forsett on the move again; seventh team of his career

Ravens' fan-favorite Justin Forsett on the move again; seventh team of his career

The 2016 NFL season has been an odyssey of sorts for Justin Forsett. 

After a Pro Bowl season in 2014, Forsett saw his numbers decline in 2015.

With the addition of Terrance West and the Ravens selecting Kenneth Dixon in the 2016 NFL Draft, Forsett saw his place with the team dissipate quickly.

After being released, then re-signed, then released again, Forsett latched on with the Lions in early October. But after appearing in just two games, the Lions released Forsett before their Week 13 win over the Saints. But on Monday, Forsett was in a new city, with a new team.

RELATED: GRADING THE RAVENS' OFFENSE IN WEEK 13

Broncos' head coach Gary Kubiak served as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2014 when Forsett ran for a career-high 1266 yards and 8 touchdowns.

The move comes a day after running back Kapri Bibbs exited their Week 13 game against the Jaguars with an ankle injury. With C.J. Anderson out for the foreseeable future, that leaves rookie Devontae Booker and fullback-tailback Juwan Thompson as the only running backs on the team.

The Broncos will be the seventh team Forsett has played for since joining the NFL in 2008.

 

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Grading the Ravens defense, special teams vs. Dolphins

Grading the Ravens defense, special teams vs. Dolphins

The Ravens put together their most complete game of the season on Sunday with a 38-6 beatdown of the Dolphins, winners of six straight coming in.

The script was a refreshing one for the Ravens offense — four touchdown passes, 24 first-half points, crisp execution — but the defense did what it's done all season, shutting down Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi and making the Dolphins earn every yard.

The only Dolphins points, in fact, came after they began inside the Ravens 10-yard line because of a Dennis Pitta fumble.

We've already handed out report cards to the offense, so now it's time to grade the defense and special teams.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B+

Ajayi averaged 5.1 yards a carry (12-61) but the Ravens' 24-0 halftime lead pretty much eliminated Ajayi as a big factor in the second half.

Although Ajayi slipped some tackles, the Dolphins totaled 1 yard rushing on carries by four other players.

Timmy Jernigan was a force inside again but took a stupid taunting penalty after head-butting a Dolphins player. That type of penalty has been too common in his career, but largely absent this season, which has been Jernigan's best yet.

Brent Urban picked up his second sack of the season.

LINEBACKER: B+

Zach Orr continues to impress. He led all players with 13 tackles.

The Ravens linebackers had just one sack, by rookie Matt Judon, but they were pressuring Ryan Tannehill often. Terrell Suggs and Judon each had two of the Ravens nine quarterback hits. Za'Darius Smith also had a quarterback hit as he returned to action after being benched last week.

The Ravens linebackers did a decent job setting the edge on the run, though Ajayi broke some tackles at the line of scrimmage.

SECONDARY: A-

The secondary might have had its best game of the season, with rangy plays, physical coverage, seven passes defensed and three interceptions.

Lardarius Webb's interception in the end zone was outstanding. He ranged far and made a leaping grab to kill a Dolphins drive. It was easily the best play he's made since converting to safety.

His safety counterpart, Eric Weddle, also had an interception near the end zone to kill another Dolphins drive and returned it 53 yards.

Jerraud Powers tipped the pass that Weddle intercepted and also had an interception of his own.

The Ravens did a great job containing talented Dolphins receivers and showing looks that seemed to confuse Tannehill.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Another week, another 50-plus bomb from kicker Justin Tucker, who hit from 55  yards to end the half and extend his streak to 35 field goals without a miss. Four of his last five have come from 52 yards or farther.  

Sam Koch had an uneven day punting, shanking one kick for 16 yards. He averaged 31 yards on three punts, but two of them pinned the Dolphins inside their 15-yard line.

Devin Hester, who has said he's finally healthy again, didn't show much. He had one kickoff return for 17 yards and totaled 3 yards on three punt returns.

In a weekly occurrence, the Ravens again had two illegal-block penalties on punt returns  (Shareece Wright, Matt Judon).

MORE: Ravens excited for Monday night matchup against Patriots