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Former Ravens WR Steve Smith opens up about his ongoing mental health battles

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USA Today Sports

Former Ravens WR Steve Smith opens up about his ongoing mental health battles

In the United States, one of the most publicly respected – and publicly criticized – jobs you can have is that of a professional athlete. 

Steve Smith Sr., former Pro-Bowl wide receiver for the Ravens and Panthers, who retired in 2017 after playing 16 seasons, knows the pressure all too well.

“Too often taboo, depression is shut behind closed doors -- especially in a tough-guy sport like football, with a social media environment that glorifies successes and status,” Smith wrote in a first-person piece for NFL.com on Tuesday.

Though he primarily played with the Carolina Panthers, Smith finished his career in Baltimore as wide receiver for the Ravens from 2014 to 2016. Throughout his 16 years on the field, Smith totaled just under 15,000 yards and an impressive 1,031 receptions. 

But, as he elucidates throughout the piece, Smith had trouble feeling “genuine delight” or pure joy despite finding success on the field and with his teammates.

“Despite all of my achievements, I routinely felt trapped, inferior and alone. This overwhelmed me internally and often left me mentally, physically and emotionally broken,” Smith explains. The stories of constant self-doubt and depreciation seem familiar to anyone with a history of or connection to someone with a mental illness.

An anecdote from after Smith injured his Achilles tendon stands out in particular: 

I continued counseling sessions when I got to Baltimore the following year. I saw small changes in myself, but even more, I started seeing all my flaws. That's a hard thing to accept for anyone. After tearing my Achilles midway through what was to be my final season, I remember sitting in the hospital bed recalling dropped passes from 10 years prior.

In talking about his experience with counseling, Smith underscores the importance of patience, self-compassion, and recognizing that change and recovery is a lifelong process with no set end date. 

However, looking back, Smith says he still wishes he had been more open, and sought help sooner. Ultimately, it’s better to reach out late than not at all. 
“The best thing I ever did for my well-being was to seek help,” Smith reiterates throughout his writing.

It’s hard to open up to the world about something so stigmatized in a sport that asks you to sacrifice your body and mind. Football often labels any type of vulnerability as a weakness or an offense. But Smith’s courage and articulate response continues the conversation about how pro sports can make their players’ mental health just as much of a priority as their physical health.

After the losses of cultural figures Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, Smith hopes that we can open a dialogue on mental health without any drastic prompting events. 
“All human beings have strengths and weaknesses, physical and mental,” Smith concludes. “You're not alone. Believe me.”

You can read Steve Smith Sr.’s entire personal essay here.

If you or someone close to you is struggling with depression or other mental illnesses, it is never too late to reach out. Resources like www.mentalhealth.gov, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or the Crisis Text line (HOME to 741741) can put you in touch with certified counselors or information on what to do next.

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What the Ravens' 2-0 start says about the team’s playoff chances

What the Ravens' 2-0 start says about the team’s playoff chances

After two games, the Ravens are in as good of a position as they could be in with a 2-0 record. 

But the team’s start, paired with the rest of the AFC North, has the Ravens sitting in an excellent spot after just two weeks. 

The Ravens 2-0 record doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot, far from it in fact. But a quick glance around the rest of the league shows the Ravens are in a better spot than might be imagined.

According to Oddsshark.com, 98 teams have started 2-0 since the 2007 season. Of those 98 teams, 54 teams have made the playoffs and 44 missed out. The Ravens, according to fivethirtyeight.com, have a 72 percent chance to make the playoffs (fifth-highest), a 63 percent chance to win the division (third-highest) and a six percent chance to win the Super Bowl (fifth-highest). 

So while the odds are in the Ravens favor, there’s still work to do.

Statistically, and without context, a 2-0 start only means the Ravens have a roughly better chance than 50-50 to make the postseason. 

The biggest start to the Ravens season, however, is how the rest of the AFC North fared in the season’s first two weeks. 

The Steelers and Bengals started 0-2 and the Browns, who play Monday against the Jets, are 0-1. While a 2-0 start doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot, an 0-2 start has nearly been a death-knell for NFL teams since 2007.

Of the 98 teams to start 0-2 since 2007, only 12 have made the postseason — a percentage of just 12.2 percent. 

Of the seven teams to start 0-2 last season, two of them (Houston and Seattle) made the playoffs. Those teams, statistically, are the anomaly. 

Context included, the Ravens have had a strong showing, albeit against two teams expected to be at the bottom of the NFL standings this year. 

Lamar Jackson is one of two quarterbacks in the NFL that has thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The other is Pat Mahomes, who will face the Ravens in week three. The defense, while it had its rough patches against the Cardinals Air Raid offense, held strong in the red zone. 

With Kansas City upcoming, the chance to not only increase the Ravens playoff chances exists, but also the opportunity to state their claim as one of the best teams in the NFL.

The Ravens aren’t guaranteed anything, especially with their upcoming stretch of games against the Chiefs, Browns, Steelers and Bengals, when their division lead can evaporate. 

But paired with their start, and the rest of the division’s start, the chance to offer a knockout blow to the rest of the division in the early weeks is there for the taking. 

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Stock up, stock down: Rating the Ravens as they move to 2-0 on the season

Stock up, stock down: Rating the Ravens as they move to 2-0 on the season

BALTIMORE — With the Ravens now at 2-0, there’s a lot to like about the team’s first two weeks and their outlook moving forward. 

But since every win can’t be a 49-point blowout, there were a few more things that went wrong in the 23-17 win over the Cardinals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here are a few players whose stocks are on the move:

Stock up: Lamar Jackson

Jackson enjoyed the most complete game of his career, as he was responsible for 392 of the 440 total yards the Ravens gained on offense. 

He threw for 272 yards, rushed for 120 more and tossed two touchdown passes. It was his final pass, a 41-yard shot down the right sideline, that sealed the deal for the Ravens, as he capped off his day with a rainbow throw to Marquise Brown.

Jackson is the only player in league history to throw for 270 yards and rush for 120 additional yards in the same game. 

Stock down: The Ravens defense (before the red zone)

That’s an important clarification. For the most part, the Ravens defense struggled against the Cardinals Air Raid attack. 

Kyler Murray threw for 349 yards on 25-of-40 passing. Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald both went over 100 yards as the Cardinals found the red zone four times on the afternoon. 

“It’s a spread-open offense, and sometimes you get into some zone-coverage situations, and you have to get lined up fast and you have to communicate fast,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh explained. “The route matches are not simple. They’re not simple for any team. And when you have a bunch of receivers on the field, that’s what that offense is built to do.”

Arizona didn’t have much of a run game to speak of, a credit to the Ravens' front seven, but they didn’t need to as Murray played like the No. 1 pick most of the day.

Stock up: The Ravens defense (in the red zone)

While the Ravens allowed the Cardinals into the red zone four times, they only gave up 17 points in those trips. One of those drives could have swung the game, but the Ravens defense held strong. 

“We did a good job of covering them, which we didn’t do when they went down there and scored,” Harbaugh said. “They had us on the ropes a little bit there. We covered really well, and we presented in fronts that they couldn’t really get it in with.”

Yes, the Ravens have things to clean up in the secondary. But the team’s red zone defense played well enough to keep the Cardinals at bay.

Stock down: The referees

The referees didn’t decide the game, nor did they impact the final result in a large manner. 

But late in the fourth quarter, Marquise Brown was hit from behind before the ball arrived. The play looked like pass interference, but the referees determined it was clean.

Even after the Ravens challenged, the play stood. Harbaugh said he thought Brown had no chance to make the play. 

Al Riveron, Senior Vice President of Officiating for the NFL, released a statement after the game that there wasn’t enough to overturn the play. 

“We do see contact, but the contact has to rise to the level where it significantly hinders the opponent’s opportunity to make a play on the ball,” the report read. “And the only way we can see it is through clear and obvious video evidence. So contact by itself is not a foul.”

Stock up: Marquise Brown

The rookie had his breakout game last week, but he was a more consistent factor against the Cardinals. 

He was targeted 13 times and had eight catches for 86 yards. On the touchdown throw to Mark Andrews on the Ravens' first drive, the Cardinals were so concerned with Brown they left Andrews wide open. 

Brown was shifty, speedy, and showed excellent hands. All reasons why the Ravens made him the team’s first round pick in April.

Stock up: Mark Andrews

Andrews posted his second straight 100-yard receiving game with 112 yards on eight catches. He also added a touchdown on the team's first drive of the game.

He was seemingly always open for the Ravens over the middle, as the Cardinals were forced to choose between him and Brown. 

Paired together, Andrews and Jackson have become quite the formidable duo for the Ravens this season. 

Stock Down: Competition in the AFC North

The Steelers fell to 0-2. The Bengals were blown out, falling to 0-2. The Browns play Monday night in New York, and are 0-1. 

The Ravens are guaranteed to have at least a one-game lead in the division at the end of Monday, which is a significant hole for the rest of the division to climb out of. 

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