Jimmy Smith hasn't been on the field the past two seasons when the Ravens had their hearts broken and fell just short of the playoffs
Smith sat on his couch the last time Baltimore was in the playoffs in 2014, when New England exposed the Ravens' lack of depth at cornerback in overcoming two 14-point leads.
Sunday night's game was Smith's chance to finally make his impact as a top-flight cornerback felt when it mattered most. And he sure did deliver.
Smith intercepted Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield twice in Sunday's 26-24 AFC North-clinching win.
The Ravens' veteran cornerback picked of Mayfield's very first pass of the game, setting the tone for a defense that gave up more yards and points than it wanted to, but came up with the clutch plays it needed to with three turnovers overall.
"Tremendous fight by our team. Tremendous fight by the Cleveland Browns," Smith said.
"It feels good to be victorious. It feels good to have our defense out there on fourth-and-10 in the same situation, with everything on the line, and come up with the play, an interception, of all things. It's just tremendous by the team."
Smith stepped in front of Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway on the fourth play of scrimmage, after Cleveland quickly began the game by marching into Ravens territory. That got a packed M&T Bank Stadium rocking from the jump.
Mayfield and the Browns surprisingly found success when targeting Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who just last week was voted the team's MVP by the local media. But the Browns didn't do much when going at Smith.
With the Ravens leading, 20-7, in the second quarter, Smith again picked off Mayfield when Tavon Young jumped in front of a pass to break it up and Smith dove to catch the ball against his helmet.
The Ravens have sat atop the league in points and yards allowed for much of the season, but their one flaw was that they hadn't gotten many turnovers. Smith entered the game without an interception this season.
"I caught up to Brandon [Carr] and Marlon [in interceptions]," Smith said. "I told them that before the game. I was like 'I have to get two this game to even catch up to you guys.' So I'm happy that I got a couple in that column before our season ends."
Part of the reason Smith trailed was that he got a late start. He served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy at the start of the season. Last year, he tore his Achilles in early December. The year before, a high ankle sprain knocked him out. In 2014, it was a Lisfranc foot injury.
"Super proud of Jimmy. He's fought through a lot, not just this year, but throughout his career with injuries and the predicaments he's been through," safety Tony Jefferson said. "Strong. That's what makes him a Raven and kept him here so long."
The last time Smith was in the playoffs was in 2012, when he was instrumental in the Ravens' goal-line stop in Super Bowl XLVII. Now the 2011 first-round pick is back, and he's playing at his elite level again.
"When I first got here, first couple of years, we were really good. We got there quickly, and I guess kind of took for granted how hard it is to come by wins in this league," Smith said. "To have six years before we win another championship – at least [in the] division, you kind of really appreciate it even more now."