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The Ravens have preached all season long that they’d get better.
And a major reason for the improvement is the team’s rookie class, which continues to blossom.
Their impact was on full display Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium as cornerback Jimmy Smith, wide receiver Torrey Smith and defensive end Pernell McPhee all made tide-turning plays in the 31-24 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Three rookies who made big plays in the game today: Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee, basically finishing the game,” running back Ray Rice said. “These [are] three rookies that finished the game for us.”
Torrey had his biggest game since Week 3 when he broke onto the national scene by scoring three touchdowns on his first three NFL career receptions. He finished with six receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown.
In previous meetings with the Bengals, the Ravens didn’t have Smith to take the top off a defense that likes to drop its safeties. Now they do.
“Torrey is getting better each week as a wide receiver,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He did a great job, and he is a real difference for this offense against that team.”
In his first extensive game action, entering the game in three-wide formations, Jimmy’s interception initially turned the tide. The Ravens were leading by three points near the end of the third quarter when he stepped in front of Andre Caldwell deep in Bengals territory, which eventually led to a touchdown.
“That was the greatest play of his career and the biggest play for our defense this day,” Lardarius Webb said. “We needed it. Ed Reed made one [interception] earlier and it was big, but it wasn’t as big as Jimmy’s. Jimmy really, really made a good play and he started it all.”
McPhee was the Ravens’ closer, and he did it with a veteran move of timing up Dalton’s snap count.
The Bengals drove to Baltimore’s 7-yard line with a chance to tie the game with a touchdown. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 17, McPhee jumped the snap and easily got by strong left tackle Andrew Whitworth to sack Dalton on the final play.
It was the fifth-round pick’s fourth sack of the season. None have been bigger.
“I kept watching the play clock, I kept seeing they let the play clock wind down to five seconds and then snapped the ball,” McPhee said. “I just knew they were going to snap it. I knew once he tapped his hip … 100 mph.”
At the same time, the rookies also showed their youth at different times – which is to be expected. But as they continue their maturation, those blips may fade away as well.
Torrey had a 15-yard illegal crackback penalty that wiped out a 26-yard scamper by running back Ray Rice in the third quarter. It’s Torrey’s second penalty while blocking in three games.
After Baltimore took a 31-14 lead, Jimmy got burned by Caldwell for a 49-yard touchdown. On third-and-6 with the Ravens sending an all-out blitz, Jimmy was anticipating a quick slant as Cincinnati had to get the ball out fast. Instead, Caldwell just ran by the flat-footed first-round pick.
“I was thinking short and he went deep,” Smith said. “That’s the hole in that defense. It’s a learning experience. I made some good plays, but there’s also some I have to tighten up on.”