It was an eventful Sunday afternoon for Torrey Smith — and his dreadlocks.
The fleet-footed wide receiver set new career highs in catches (six) and receiving yards (165). He established a new Ravens franchise record for rookie receiving yards with 590 in just 10 games. And his 38-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter ended up being the difference as the Ravens held off the pesky Cincinnati Bengals, 31-24, at M&T Bank Stadium.
But after the game, the thing that everyone wanted to talk about most was his hair.
As the Ravens drove down the field in the final minutes of the first half, Smith hauled in a quick slant from quarterback Joe Flacco and sprinted through the heart of Cincinnati's defense. After a few long strides, no Bengals stood between Smith and the end zone. But cornerback Adam Jones reached out from behind and yanked the rookie down by his long dreadlocks.
"That was my first time having that happen. I was in shock," Smith said. "I started to pull away. I thought I was going to score, and next thing I know, I was getting dragged down by my dreads."
Incredulous fans, looking for a penalty, threw their hands up in the air. However, defenders are allowed to pull the ball-carrier down by their hair as the NFL considers it part of the uniform.
"He just has to run faster," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, "to outrun the dreads."
Smith said he didn't feel any pain on the play. He added that earlier he saw dreadlocks lying on the turf, but they weren't his (he guessed that they belonged to Cincinnati back Bernard Scott).
"We were actually standing by it, and they were like, 'Torrey, did you lose a few dreads?' No, I didn't lose any," he said, drawing chuckles from reporters, many of them follically-challenged.
Including that hair-raising 28-yard catch and run, he had three receptions longer than 25 yards. His 49-yard catch down the right sideline in the second quarter set up the first of Ray Rice's two touchdowns. And somehow, the Bengals let him slip behind them again for the game-sealing score, with Smith tapping two feet down in the back of the end zone to complete the catch.
After the game, Smith, Flacco and Harbaugh all spoke about the 2011 second-round draft pick's evolution. Smith exploded onto the scene in Week 3, catching two long bombs from Flacco and totaling three touchdowns in a win over the St. Louis Rams. He is still beating teams deep, but he has improved his route-running and is now grabbing passes underneath the coverage, too.
"He's becoming a good one," Flacco said. "He is going to continue to get better and better as the year goes on. Part of that is dealing with a little bit of growing pains and having a breakout."
Smith said the game has slowed down, allowing him to make more of an impact. He said he was going "100 miles per hour" in the preseason, and when he looks at the tape now, he noticed that he was often off-balance and out of control, which is why he struggled to get out of his breaks.
"I can run the whole route tree with confidence," Smith said.
Smith blazed past Mark Clayton, who had 471 yards in 2005, for the team's single-season rookie receiving mark. And his 165 yards on Sunday was the third-highest single-game total ever for a Ravens receiver. Qadry Ismail had 258 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1999 season.
Smith likely would have tacked on an extra 59 yards to that total had Jones not tackled him by his hair. However, at the moment, Smith has no plans to cut off his now-signature dreadlocks.
"I honestly thought about it," he said. "But my grandma likes it a little too much."
twitter.com/mattvenselCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times