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Jimmy Smith Saves Best For Last

Posted Feb 5, 2013

The second-year cornerback made the game's biggest play after a trying season.


Before Super Bowl XLVII, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith's mom told him that the turbulent start to his career was just a setup.

It was a setup to something great.

Smith took center stage in the Superdome, the target of the 49ers’ final fourth-down pass attempt. He made the game’s defining play, the last stop.

The second-year cornerback knew San Francisco was going to attack him with top wide receiver Michael Crabtree split out wide.

All Crabtree, a 1,000-yard receiver this year, had to do was win his one-on-one battle with Smith, a backup cornerback who missed five games this year. San Francisco liked its chances.

“I figured it was either going to be a slant or a fade,” Smith said.

“I saw Kaepernick tap the back of his head, so I’m thinking it’s a back shoulder. I took away inside leverage just so he wouldn’t run a slant, then got my hands on him long enough to mess up the timing.”

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had to get rid of the ball fast with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe blitzing up the middle. Smith and Crabtree jostled for position. Smith grabbed him at the waist while Crabtree push Smith away by the helmet.

The pass sailed out of the reach of Crabtree and out of bounds. San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh screamed for a holding penalty. But Crabtree said he wasn’t going to make any excuses.

“I was just really determined to make the play and he got hands on me,” Crabtree said. “I guess the refs said he made a good play.”

Smith said he was thinking about his technique before the snap of his ball. But his size and strength may have played just as equal of a role in making the stop. Smith measures in at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and Crabtree is 6-1, 214.

Smith’s size and talent are two reasons why he was a first-round pick last year, 27th overall. But that potential had yet to pay much dividends on the field.

Smith missed four games last year due to an ankle injury and didn’t see much time on defense until late in the season when he started three contests.

This year, he lost his preseason battle with Cary Williams for a starting position, then suffered a sports hernia injury that knocked him out of action. When Smith returned to the field, he was behind cornerback Corey Graham and Chykie Brown, who was drafted four rounds after Smith.

“You went first round, thought you were all high and mighty,” Smith said, recalling his mother’s words. “Then you get knocked to your [butt] and you have to go through this to put things back in place. In a way, I can see that. It makes sense.”

It wasn’t just the final fourth-down play that made Smith one of the Super Bowl’s lead characters.

He also made a jarring hit on the 49ers’ final series, knocking the ball out of Crabtree’s hands after he seemed to have a completion.

It was quite the ending for Smith, and could be a sign of more to come.

“He’s going to be a great player for this organization for some time to come,” Williams said. “He’s just waiting on the opportunity. Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations. He’s one of those guys.”

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