Ravens speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith kept accelerating past Denver Broncos star cornerback Champ Bailey on Saturday, finding another gear that the veteran defensive back couldn't match or even approach.
Shut down by Bailey earlier this season during a regular-season defeat in December at M&T Bank Stadium, Smith transformed his personal rematch Saturday into a steady measure of revenge.
Smith made the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback look every bit of his 34 years on Saturday, burning him twice for touchdowns during the Ravens' dramatic 38-35 double-overtime victory at frosty Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.
"It's pretty cool," said Smith, a former University of Maryland standout. "On the field, I look at him like everybody else. Afterward, it sinks in that it's Champ and he's one of the great players in the league and has shut down a lot of great players. I beat him a few times. He's a great player, but I'm a professional, too."
Held to just one inconsequential reception for 14 yards during the first meeting, Smith was unstoppable against Bailey this time.
Isolated in single coverage, Smith dashed easily behind Bailey for a 59-yard touchdown in the first quarter where quarterback Joe Flacco hit him in stride.
Flacco had plenty of time to lob a crisp spiral over Bailey's head.
"Both touchdowns were one-on-one matchups and Joe gave me a shot," Smith said. "I just ran past him. I probably could have had four touchdowns. We made some plays when they were there."
Just before halftime, Smith struck again.
On a sideline route, Smith leaped over Bailey for a nice fingertip grab for a 32-yard touchdown to tie the score at 21-21.
During the first half, Smith caught two passes for 91 yards.
The temperature was 13 degrees at kickoff and felt like it was under zero degrees with the wind-chill factor, but Smith was red-hot.
"Early on, Smith was problematic," Broncos coach John Fox said. "It wasn’t new. They usually exploited that to our left or their right."
Afterward, Bailey saluted Smith for his burgeoning expertise as a deep threat.
Smith averaged 17.4 yard per reception during the regular season and led the Ravens in touchdown catches.
“He is a good player," Bailey said. "I have to give him credit but there are some things I wish I could have done differently. It is one of those situations where you wish you could have it back, but my hat goes off to them.
"The first one, I just kind of lost him. He got away from me. He is fast. If you lose him at the line, he is going to get by you. The second one, he made a good play. I was in position, but he made a good play. That is why he is in the league."
It was a much different story from the first game when the Ravens converted only 1 of 12 third downs.
In that meeting, Smith and the Ravens' passing game got bottled up by the Denver defense because they were constantly in third-and-long situations rather than manageable opportunities.
"It was a tough situation," Smith said. "They did a lot that game to protect their corners. This time, they had to stop the run. We were able to get them out of that Cover 2 stuff."
Smith finished the game with three receptions for 98 yards, averaging 32.7 yards per reception.
It wasn't exactly a secret inside the Ravens' locker room that they had heard more than they cared to about how Bailey and the Broncos' secondary had stonewalled them so effectively last month.
"I think all of us got tired of hearing about Champ and their secondary," said wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught six passes for 71 yards after having zero receptions in the first Denver game. "The first time around. they were able to keep four guys in the secondary. They couldn't do that here. There were opportunities because they had to play man to man outside."
Glancing proudly over at Smith inside the Ravens' raucous winning locker room, Boldin offered some perspective on the improvement of his younger teammate during his second NFL season.
"Definitely, I think every week you see the growth from him," Boldin said. "I think the best thing about him is the situation doesn't get too big for him."
Smith finished the season with 49 receptions for 855 yards and eight touchdowns, dealing with personal tragedy when his younger brother died in a motorcycle accident one day prior to him catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns during an emotional victory over the New England Patriots.
Now, Smith and the Ravens return to the AFC championship game following a clutch performance that suggests bigger things could be ahead of him in the future.
"Definitely, in every phase, in every way, I'm still learning and growing each and every day," Smith said. "I still look at receiver as a new thing for me. I will never relax and I will never get complacent."
twitter.com/RavensInsiderCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times