Torrey Smith sparks Baltimore Ravens after brother's death

BALTIMORE -- Before the Baltimore Ravens stormed back on the New England Patriots, before the Ravens won a back-and-forth stunner, 31-30, on a gut-wrenching Sunday night, Ray Lewis gathered his team. Part Hall of Famer, part preacher, he looked around the locker room, paused on Torrey Smith's stall and said, "Before every blessing, there has to be a storm."

No, the blessing is not winning a football game. It's not Smith having two touchdowns or 127 receiving yards 20 hours after his brother lost his life. The blessing is having a second family, one that didn't necessarily know Smith's brother was supposed to turn 20 on Oct. 6, but one that loves him. And lifts him. And says: We honor your brother just like he's ours.

"That's the reason," Smith said, "I wanted to be a Raven."

Smith received the awful phone call at the Ravens' hotel sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday: His younger brother, Tevin Jones, had run his motorcycle into a tree. He did not survive. And the 23-year old Smith, big brother-slash-father to six siblings, lost the one who was supposed to come stay at his house this week.

A member of the Ravens' security staff drove Smith the 75 minutes or so to his mother's home. Smith spent the day with his family, and coach John Harbaugh, after getting a 50th-birthday wake-up call no one wants to get, told him: We support you in whatever you want to do.

What Smith wanted to do was play. What his (now so cruelly smaller) family wanted was for him to play. He was back in Baltimore around 4 p.m. and an hour before kickoff, he was on the field. Stretching. Warming up his feet. Tossing a ball around with practice squad linebacker Josh Bynes. He was playing, he was pledging to play well, and somewhere between the tears that sprung during the National Anthem and midnight, Smith did more than that. He galvanized. He moved. He was the catalyst, he goaded even more emotion out of the always fiery Lewis and plainly said, "I didn't want to hurt my team."

Harbaugh said all he cared about was Smith's hurt. Once the second-year receiver said he wanted to play, the decision was finished, the coach said. And if Smith wasn't mentally all there, if he couldn't focus on wheel routes and blocking up field, so be it.

"Obviously, he's a pretty special guy," Harbaugh said.

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Smith is an old soul with an easy smile, one whose baseline personality is "goofing around and laughing," fellow receiver Jacoby Jones said. Jones lockers next to Smith at M&T Bank Stadium, and in the first minutes of Monday, he said he'd never seen the look on Smith's face that he saw Sunday. Blank, distraught, whatever it was, "when I saw that expression," Jones said, "I felt like I lost my own brother. And I'm an only child."

Running back Ray Rice said he couldn't have played under the same circumstances. Quarterback Joe Flacco said he didn't much know what to say beyond "Hello." Tight end Dennis Pitta said there is no better person on his team than Smith, and Jones, 28, said the 23-year-old Smith "is a man I look up to."

Safety Ed Reed lost a brother, too. In a quiet moment, he promised Smith he could still talk to Tevin. "I know it's much more than just us being here," Reed said he told Smith.

Reed was one of the veterans Harbaugh polled before the game, when a team official proposed a pregame moment of silence. The Ravens hadn't had one when Reed's brother passed in January of 2011, or when Pernell McPhee lost his sister this preseason, but the players unequivocally and unanimously said yes, there should be one Sunday.

Smith choked up when he was asked to OK the move on Sunday. When asked about it later, he swallowed and said, "It meant a lot."

There was a calm that suffused the Baltimore Ravens' sideline all night, Lewis said. There might be no better team at harnessing feeling than this one, and so of course they used Smith's heartache, Lewis said. Down 13-0, it was Smith's first touchdown that set them off. And as a parade of teammates, coaches and even a water boy came to shake Smith's touchdown-catching hand, it was the intimacy that kept the Ravens going.

The Baltimore crowd stood and stomped every time Smith touched the ball, from when he first knocked a sure-interception out of Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty's hands through his second touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Twice the fans started chants of "Tor-rey, Tor-rey," and Rice said the whole team eventually will cry with Smith. "The guy raised his whole family," Rice said.

No one wins a football game alone. Flacco, after an early interception, finished 28-of-39 for 382 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who won a heated camp battle over Billy Cundiff, kept a 27-yard field goal just inside the right upright as time expired to give Baltimore the final advantage. (History book: Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have tied the score in the closing seconds of last year's AFC Championship Game between these two teams.) The Ravens' defense, undermanned with Terrell Suggs playing cheerleader and not quarterback-eater, forced two punts when it needed to.

But in the midst of it all, as the Ravens won their 12th straight home game, as they reasserted that they are indeed in the Patriots' class, Smith was the subtext.

It took him until 4 p.m. to decide to play. Smith's mother, who simultaneously worked two jobs and went to school during much of his childhood, texted him, "Of course (Tevin) would want you to play."

The Ravens certainly would not have been the same without him.

Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala.