CINCINNATI — Steve Smith was the last one off the field. He got well wishes from Bengals players and did a few interviews at midfield. He waved to the fans as he headed for the locker room, stopping to give a young Ravens fan his gloves.
The 37-year-old receiver has played his stellar career without slowing down, but there was no reason to rush into retirement.
Smith caught three passes for 34 yards during Baltimore's 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. He was emotional before the game and again after it, but he had no regrets about his decision to move on with his life.
"I enjoyed it, but it's over," said Smith , who finishes tied for fourth in NFL history with 51 games of 100 yards receiving. "I know it's my time. Some people say can I play another year? I probably could. But what I would lose, I'm not willing to risk."
Smith's family is his focus now — that and indulging his taste for Rocky Road ice cream.
"The pressure I have now is getting the kids to school on time," said Smith, still dressed in his silver and purple cleats and uniform pants. "Do I eat a pint of ice cream or a gallon of ice cream?"
His team has to figure out how to recover from a disappointing season without him. The Ravens finished 8-8 and missed out on the playoffs for the third time in four years.
"Whenever you lose a great player — and he is one of the all-time great players — you are going to have to fill the void," coach John Harbaugh said. "We're going to have to find a way to be better next year, but he doesn't have to worry about that."
Smith sat in the front row with the media for Harbaugh's postgame interview, still wearing his cleats and his uniform pants. He sniffled and coughed when it was his turn to take the podium, acknowledging that it had been an emotional week.
"This week, there were a lot of emotions and a lot of anxiety," Smith said. "And I just said, 'You know what? I'm just going to play I'm not going to concern myself with getting more passes or going out like Kobe (Bryant).'"
His final game was forgettable in most ways. The Ravens still had an emotional hangover from their 31-27 loss at Pittsburgh the previous week that eliminated them from playoff contention. Smith couldn't make a big play or much of an impact against the Bengals (6-9-1).
In the end, it didn't matter.
"I've never really seen myself as special," he said.