Steve Smith Sr. said coming into Sunday's matchup with the Carolina Panthers that he just wanted to "get the game over with and move on."
But once he took the field to face the team he spent 13 seasons with, he seemed to enjoy every minute of it.
Smith had his best performance in a Ravens uniform – and arguably his best game in several years – as he sparked the Ravens to an impressive dismantling of Carolina's defense. Smith caught a pair of touchdowns, reeled in a game-high 139 receiving yards, and channeled an emotional atmosphere to lead the Ravens to a critical victory.
"I was ready to play ball once I was out there," Smith said.
Smith was the best player on the field throughout the afternoon. He beat defensive backs deep and over the middle. He won one-on-one matchups. He broke tackles to fight for extra yards.
It was a storybook way to beat the team that cut him this offseason after a historical career that has him spread throughout Carolina's franchise record books.
"I'll give you a one liner: That film was a coaching session," Smith said at the end of his post-game press conference. "I'm 35 years old and I ran around those boys like they were schoolyard kids."
Much of the attention leading up to the game focused on Smith getting a chance at redemption against the Panthers. His release by Carolina – getting fired, as he's said on numerous occasions – had left some lingering sour feelings, and he had talked about vindication since getting cut in March.
The day he was released, Smith said there would be "blood and guts everywhere" the next time he faced the Panthers. Sunday's game didn't quite get to that level, but the emotion of the contest was apparent.
"At the end of the day it's about your heart and soul and putting it out there," Smith said. "Blood and guts just means I'm going to go hard, and I'm going to play my butt off. They knew that and they understood that. They game-planned for me."
Smith's new teammates in Baltimore recognized the significance of the game, and during the week they made a statement that they would "send Steve in and out of this game a winner," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
"He's a guy we care a lot about, and we knew how much it meant to him," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "He didn't really have to say it. It was just understood."
Even with all of the emotion, Smith never let the atmosphere get the better of him. He has a reputation as a fiery personality who isn't afraid to talk trash or get into skirmishes, but that never happened against Carolina.
He took big hits on multiple occasions, and each time he quickly jumped to his feet and ran back to the huddle. He didn't even spin the ball on the turf after making big first-down catches, which has been his patented move* *throughout his 14-year career.
"I know so many people were saying this over and over, that I'd get ejected, I fight, I talk mess," Smith said. "I just went in there and played and did not have anything good, bad or indifferent to say. I just played, and at the end of the day, honestly, they didn't deserve anything I had to say that would be derogatory, and I had no need to.
"They didn't even deserve for me to spin the ball on them. I just caught it, put it down and got on about my business. It was all business."* *Both of Smith's touchdowns had a flare for the dramatic.
His first score was a 61-yard completion that came off a tipped pass intended for tight end Owen Daniels. The ball deflected off Daniels' hands, and Smith was in the perfect position to make the catch near the sidelines. He snagged the pass and then ran untouched into the end zone for the first score of the game.
"That was the best design I've ever seen in football," Head Coach John Harbaugh joked. "It was nice to get one of those."
The second touchdown came late in the second quarter when the Ravens were inside the red zone. The defenders came up to press Smith at the line of scrimmage, and then the snap to Flacco was low. He* *quickly picked up the football and tossed a flat-footed throw to Smith in the back corner of the end zone, which he caught just before he went out of bounds.
"I knew I was going to him as soon as I saw them come up to press him," Flacco said. "I picked it up cleanly enough where I thought I could get off the pass and give him a chance to make the play."
Smith tossed his first touchdown ball into the crowd, but held onto the second. He plans to put that game ball in the room of his son, Steve. Jr., who was born after Smith signed with the Ravens.
The 35-year-old receiver has loudly and unequivocally answered questions this season about how much he has left in the tank. He has arguably been the Ravens' best player through the first quarter of the season, and the move to Baltimore has been a revival for him.
Smith has topped 100 receiving yards in three of the first four games. He didn't do that once last season. Sunday's two-touchdown performance was the first time since Week 1 of 2011.
The Ravens had high hopes for Smith when signing him to a three-year contract, but he's already surpassed those lofty expectations.
"The kind of production he's had, it would be pretty hard to predict that," Harbaugh said.
The matchup against Carolina was a game Smith had anticipated for months, and Smith was already putting the game behind him as he talked with the media minutes after it ended. He had dished out some "humble pie" like he had hoped, and he could enjoy one of the more memorable afternoons of a storied career.
"Now it's finally ending," Smith said. "I'll watch a few highlights, eat a little apple pie and move on."