When the Ravens met the Patriots in September, there was more on receiver Torrey Smith's mind than football. His 19-year-old brother had died in a motorcycle accident just 18 hours prior. With the loss weighing on him, he played anyway, catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
When Justin Tucker's 27-yard kick eked over the right upright by the thinnest margin, no Raven hopped from the sidelines with more joy than Smith, able to put tragedy aside for a day.
Over the course of the Ravens' season, there seemed to always be something tugging at their emotions. Four days before their season opener, owner Art Modell died at the age of 87. As the year played out, the injuries that all teams deal with seemed to hit their defense hardest, at different points taking Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ray Lewis. They're making a playoff run knowing Ray Lewis, the team's centerpiece since he arrived in Baltimore 17 years ago, will walk away from the game once it's over and managed to extend it with a double-overtime miracle over Denver last Saturday.
They will also come into Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship for the second straight season, with the memory of coming within a field goal of going to the Super Bowl a year ago. Smith said this team has shown as much as any other team an ability to play through adversity.
“I think we're definitely battle tested and it starts at the top,” Smith said. “Everyone, they're fighters. Everyone has the heart. You have leaders like we have on our team, it's hard not to want to follow them and be a fighter and never want to throw the towel in. We've been through it all whether it's on the field or off the field, and we became stronger for it. Our coaches always say iron sharpens iron and I'm a firm believer in that.”
The Ravens' Week 3 win, when they trailed 13-0 in the first quarter and 30-21 in the fourth before clawing back, seems like ages ago, Smith said. The Patriots won nine of their last 10 regular season games, and again hung 40-plus points on the Houston Texans to reach the AFC Championship. This game will be its own monster, Smith said.
“I look at it as completely different,” Smith said. “It's the playoffs. They're playing well and they're dominating guys out there offensively and defensively. It's a completely different team. And the refs were coming back as well, so that was an adjustment for some guys, too. But New England's New England. We have a lot of respect for those guys, and they've been in this position so many times over the past few years. They have the history. They've been there. We want to get to where they've been.
Smith said on and off the field, the Ravens have shown they're resilient.
“Obviously, I had my own personal loss that my team helped me get through,” Smith said. “But that's just how we are. You look at the games we've been in, the games when we came out on top, and even the games we lost, we never laid down for anyone, that's just how we are and who we are as the Ravens.”