The Ravens offense just seems to operate better when Steve Smith Sr. gets his hands on the football.
And the Ravens made sure that the veteran wideout got involved right away Monday night against the Saints. Smith opened the game with a pair of third-down catches – including a touchdown – on the Ravens' first series, and he brought his classic intensity to the 34-27 victory.
"Obviously he is very fiery," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "When you get him the ball early, and you get his emotions into it, and you can keep his head into it for the full 60 minutes, it does really good things for our team."
Smith finished the game with four catches for 89 yards and the score. His touchdown was a stellar catch in the corner of the end zone where he simply beat the defender to catch a fade route from Flacco.
Flacco was under pressure when he lobbed the ball to Smith who was in one-on-one coverage, and he shook off contact from the defender to still make the grab in bounds.
"Steve Smith had a number of catches, but on that first drive to make that fade catch down there was about as good a catch as you're ever going to see," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He was tackled making the catch, and he still comes down with the football. That was pretty amazing."
But it wasn't just his statistics that set a tone for the Ravens. Smith is known as a hard-nosed player who doesn't back down from anyone, and that was on display against his old NFC South foe.
"I love just being physical," he said.
That intensity escalated in the second half when it flared between Smith and safety Kenny Vaccaro. Smith stiff-armed the safety down the sidelined at the end of a completion, and then the two players got into a shoving match after the play.
Vaccaro's helmet came flying off as they tangled up on the Ravens' bench, and the Saints safety was hit with a 15-yard penalty for instigating the dust-up.
Smith explained that the two players had some bad blood stemming from a game last year.
"He tried to tackle me and I gave him a stiff-arm to the ground. He threw a punch and I kind of went after him after that," Smith said. "They (Saints) don't have to worry about me anymore and I don't have to worry about them. Whatever happened between us in the past is the past – we've both moved on."
Smith got the better of Vaccaro on the day, as he also landed a big block on the safety later in the game to help spring running back Justin Forsett on a big run down the field.
"I love blocking safeties," Smith said. "We're just playing ball."
The impressive game for Smith was his best performance in weeks after a quiet stretch over the last month. He now has 53 catches for 817 yards and five touchdowns this season.
"I'm just here to play ball and have fun, take some people's lunch money," the 35-year-old receiver said. "I'm the old guy, they don't need to cover me."