Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith did not make enough plays Sunday, but he did not make excuses.
Smith was beaten several times during the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Saints, including on Michael Thomas' 5-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that put the New Orleans Saints ahead for good, completing their comeback from 10 points down near the end of the third quarter.
It was a performance Smith would rather forget and it stung. After Thomas' touchdown catch, Smith grabbed his facemask with both hands in anger, unable to hide his disappointment.
"Definitely frustrated," Smith said. "I didn't play my game today. I felt frustrated, because I felt like I'm the one who lost that game at the end."
It was not that simple, because Smith was just part of a Ravens defense that struggled to contain Drew Brees, an all-time great quarterback who made several game-changing plays. But Smith was victimized several times by Thomas (seven catches, 69 yards), and the Saints scored on their final three possessions, becoming the first team to score a second-half touchdown against the Ravens this season.
For Smith, it was his worst game of the season in just his third game since returning from a four-game suspension. With the Ravens' most consistent cornerback this year out of the lineup, Smith was forced to play more snaps. Smith defended Thomas much of the game and Brees aggressively threw in Smith's direction.
Smith relishes these types of challenges, but was simply not at his best.
"I'm 100 percent, I'm ready to go every week," Smith said. "There's no excuses, my Achilles, none of that. It's time to play ball."
The tone for Smith's long day was set in the second quarter. With the game still scoreless, Smith rushed on a corner blitz and ran into the backfield untouched with a clear path to sack Brees. But Smith missed the tackle, allowing Brees to find Dan Arnold on a 10-yard completion. On the next play, Thomas beat Smith for a 32-yard reception.
Had Smith sacked Brees, it would have put the Saints in second-and-long, and perhaps that first touchdown drive never happens.
"I missed him," Smith said.
Later in that same drive, Smith was penalized for pass inference at the 1-yard line, although it looked like he collided with a Saints wide receiver who was trying to set a pick. On the next play, Brees found former Ravens tight end Ben Watson for the Saints' first touchdown.
Smith didn't agree with the pass interference call, but it was that kind of day for him, and for the Ravens' defense.
"I don't know about that one," Smith said. "If I'm running that way, and they have a designed rub route, and I accidently hit him, is that a penalty on me? That kept the drive alive and they ended up scoring on the next play. I didn't think I was in the wrong, but clearly I was. Honestly, we just didn't play the game we should've played on defense. I was accountable for a lot of that, I feel like."
Thomas said his matchup with Smith was a difficult challenge.
"Jimmy is a great competitor," Thomas said. "We were competing all day. I just executed on it (his touchdown). Drew had trust in me and I made a play."
Containing the Saints and Brees for four quarters is difficult, and it took several superb plays by Brees to beat the Ravens. Late in the third quarter, he appeared to be sacked by Ravens safety Tony Jefferson, only to complete an 9-yard pass to Thomas as he went to the turf – moving the chains on a key third down. The Saints went on to score their second touchdown on that drive.
"He made some incredible plays," Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. "You've got to tip your hat to one of the best ever. We had him wrapped up, but he kept finding ways to make plays. Not many guys in the history of the game can do that."
The Ravens were the only team that Brees had never defeated during his 18-year career, and he became just the third quarterback to defeat every NFL team, joining Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. The Ravens entered this game as the league's No 1-ranked defense and looked at this matchup as a measuring stick. Brees and the Saints won this matchup, but Weddle said the defense needs to move past this defeat quickly.
"We could have played better defensively at times, we could have executed calls better," Weddle said. "If we ever get a chance to play them again, I think we will. We made it hard, we made them fight for everything they got. We've got to man up and play better."