Loss of Jimmy Smith ends Ravens' title aspirations

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- One of the Baltimore Ravens' worst fears came to light Thursday when it was announced that cornerback Jimmy Smith underwent season-ending foot surgery.

Other than quarterback Joe Flacco, the player the Ravens could least afford to lose this season was Smith. The Ravens' secondary went from being depleted to downright depressing.

There is no player on the Ravens who can match Smith's size, speed and playmaking ability. That's why the loss of Smith represents the undoing of the Ravens' championship aspirations.

Two weeks ago, the Ravens were tied for the second-best record in the AFC. Now they are reeling after two road losses to division rivals and the loss of one of their best defensive players.

This is reminiscent of the 2001 season, when the Ravens' hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions were dashed with the season-ending injury to running back Jamal Lewis. The Ravens didn't have an answer at running back that season, and they don't have one at cornerback this year.

Given the Ravens' weak remaining schedule, the AFC North's last-place team can still reach the playoffs by winning their last four home games and stealing a game on the road. And, other than Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, the Ravens don't face another top-10 passer this season.

The Ravens are solid enough in their front seven that they can beat the likes of Zach Mettenberger, Blake Bortles and Ryan Mallett. So making the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons isn't out of the question for the Ravens (5-4).

But any thoughts of making a run in January ended with Smith's surgery. With a struggling and unproven secondary, nobody can realistically say the Ravens can upset Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger in the playoffs. Not with the Ravens' current cornerbacks. Not with Lardarius Webb, who is rated No. 101 out of 109 cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus. Not with Danny Gorrer, who is on his fourth team in four years. And not with Tramain Jacobs, an undrafted rookie who was just promoted from the practice squad.

The Ravens had given up the sixth-most passing yards this season before Smith went down with an injury. How many will they give up when quarterbacks don't have to worry about Smith breaking up a pass? In the Ravens' first full game without Smith, they allowed six touchdown passes to Roethlisberger. The Ravens are expected to get back cornerback Asa Jackson, who is on short-term injured reserve with a toe injury, sometime in December. Jackson, though, is a first-year starter as well. How the Ravens let their depth at cornerback get to this troubling state is a legitimate question.

The players and coaches can cling to the hope that they've already been able to overcome losses to key players. The Ravens won two games with two rookies starting on the left side of the offensive line when tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele went down with injuries. They were able to withstand the season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta as well as the abrupt release of running back Ray Rice.

The loss of Smith is on another level. He was playing as well as any cornerback in the NFL. Smith was a game-changer on the Ravens' defense. And not having him on the field changes the Ravens' season completely.