TOP 20 GAMES OF 2012

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Game 9: Patriots at Ravens Week 3

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We'd all like to think we are capable of it.

Going to work through a personal hardship is obviously never easy, but some circumstances are so deeply intimate and tragic that they overcome someone's ability to function as the person they are 24/7/365.

Perhaps some of us can relate to Torrey Smith playing against the New England Patriots on the same day that he learned of his brother's death. Some people can work the day they are broken up with, or even after learning a friend has been hurt ... but a sibling passing away? Can't imagine. If I were ever to lose one of my two brothers, I wouldn't be working for days, much less playing four quarters.

New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 was a physical and hotly contested game. Smith went full speed, got hit and, perhaps most incredibly under the circumstances, was a HUGE reason that the Ravens won No. 9 in our countdown of the Top Games of 2012.

Torrey Smith used social media prior to the Sunday night contest to express his grief.

Smith was all over the field, averaging more than 20 yards per catch while making at least three plays that loomed large in this Sunday nighter.

First, he gave the Ravens a lift when he beat Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington -- who would be a big factor later -- on a little out-and-up move, then reached up and grabbed the ball over the defender in the end zone. It was a play that a lot of ordinary wideouts don't make, and it was an effort that his team -- already behind New England, 13-0 -- needed.

Baltimore was still behind early in the second half when Smith struck once more. On second-and-10, with the score 20-14 in New England's favor, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hit Smith on a deep in. After making the grab, Smith spun and turned what would have been a decent gain into a 32-yard burst with a nice run after the catch. On the next play, running back Ray Rice took the ball the final 7 yards to the end zone to put the Ravens up, 21-20.

But the man wasn't done. With less than five minutes left to play, his team was trailing yet again, this time by a score of 30-21. At the Patriots' 5-yard line, Smith gave Devin McCourty a subtle push to create space on an inside-out move. It was a veteran tactic, the kind that Michael Irvin and Randy Moss made famous -- and the kind that gives a quarterback a window. Flacco fit the ball in there, and the Ravens were back in business on the score, pulling within two points. John Harbaugh's club notched a field goal on the final possession to put the emotionally split team into the win column.

Ray Lewis hugs an emotional Torrey Smith after his gutsy performance helped secure a win for the Baltimore Ravens.

It's one thing to play under the dark cloud of tragedy. But for Smith to perform under that cloud -- on pretty much no sleep -- and ultimately become the key to his team's victory against the best the AFC has to offer? Maybe the escapist therapy provided by a physical job like playing pro football helped Smith power through his emotions. Or perhaps he was so numb that he was able to focus.

No matter. Smith made his family -- in both the real and professional sense -- proud with his very presence on the turf at M&T Stadium. He also made his mark on our Ninth Top Game of 2012.

Did You Know? Wes Welker notched eight catches for 142 yards in this AFC battle, his first grab going for 59 yards to set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal in the first quarter.

More importantly, Welker has recorded 672 receptions since 2007. That's 80 more than the next closest guy.

Historical Symmetry: The 2011 AFC Championship Game was not dissimilar from this Week 3 battle. In that playoff game, the Ravens tried to go vertical to Torrey Smith (who finished with three catches and 82 yards). They had him open downfield a couple of times -- including on a missed deep throw by Flacco that would have been a sure score.

Obviously, that wasn't the biggest similarity. Remember how that AFC Championship Game came down to a makeable field goal attempt by former kicker Billy Cundiff (from 32 yards out)? This regular-season matchup ended on a chip shot from Justin Tucker (27 yards).

Cundiff missed. As for whether Tucker made his, that question led us to ...

Play of the Game: ... watch the game-ending kick again. You make the call. Was it over the crossbar, or was that a miss? I would be interested in your take. @Harrison_NFL is the dropbox.

(Almost) Play of the Game: With the Ravens trailing, 30-28, and just under a minute left, the offense faced a second-and-9 from the Patriots' 34. They needed to get Tucker another few yards, so that he'd have a better shot (and so that they wouldn't have to bank their hopes on a 54-yard goal).

Flacco tried to get the ball to Anquan Boldin near the left sideline. However, feeling some pressure, he threw it too far -- and also too far inside. Arrington had a chance to catch up to the ball at the 20, but in his haste to make a play, stumbled on his own feet ... falling short of a pick that would have saved the game for New England.

Best Player on the Field: Is there any question? Here is the stat line Smith put together under these extraordinary circumstances: six catches, 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Somehow, someway, Torrey Smith found a way to perform at the highest level amidst the toughest emotional circumstances.

It should be noted that both quarterbacks were outstanding. Tom Brady completed 28-of-41 passes for 335 yards, one touchdown and no picks. Flacco was 28-of-39 for 382 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Why This Game is No. 9: Patriots-Ravens Week 3 had everything you could ask for in a football game: a timely rematch of an exciting conference championship, a budding rivalry in which every game has ramifications for January and, of course, a make-or-break moment on the final snap.

When you look at the human angle regarding Smith and his phenomenal performance, along with the fact that this was an outstanding contest, the only point one can argue is whether Patriots-Ravens should be higher on our list.

Visit NFL Game Center for more on Patriots at Ravens.

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