Torrey Smith was open, 30 yards down the seam on the right side. A safety angling over wasn't going to get there before the perfect Carson Wentz pass hit Smith in stride. The Eagles had a 10-0 second-quarter lead Sunday and were starting their third drive of the afternoon. A "chunk" play here would really put the host Los Angeles Chargers on their heels.
Except, Smith reached up, and the ball buzzed right through his hands to the turf. Smith joined it there, when the safety, Tre Boston, bulldozed him a split second after the drop. Boston got up and seemed about to offer Smith a hand, but Smith was too busy pounding his fists into his temples in frustration to notice.
"The drop went right through my hands," Smith said Wednesday. "Hands too far apart. Great throw."
Right after the Eagles' 26-24 victory, in which Smith's only catch, for 9 yards, came on the final drive of the day, though he was on the field for 57 snaps, Smith tweeted: "In the middle of the worst stretch of my career … I'll bounce back … proud of the team."
After he'd had a few days to gain perspective, Smith reconsidered the "worst" designation.
"When I looked back and thought about it – I exaggerated a little bit," he said. "Obviously, there's some plays I've left on the field that I could have made, should have made. It's more just frustration with that, more than anything, but we've been winning, so it's been able to mask that a little bit. If our offense is able to be productive, and I haven't even played the way I'm supposed to play … when I get rolling, hopefully this Sunday [against Arizona], it'll change our offense."
Fans hailed Smith's signing in March as the return of the deep threat the team had been missing since Chip Kelly airily dismissed DeSean Jackson in 2014. Smith, 28, has never produced at prime Jacksonian level – he was available because he didn't live up to expectations after signing a five-year free-agent contract in San Francisco that would have been worth $40 million had he not been released after two years and 53 receptions in 28 games.
But Smith earned that deal after being a key contributor to the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII-winning team. He'd averaged 53.25 catches and 897.75 yards during his four years with Baltimore, after arriving as a second-round pick in 2011, when current Eagles player personnel vice president Joe Douglas was part of the Ravens' scouting operation.
San Francisco was in chaos during Smith's time there, coached by Jim Tomsula, then Kelly. The Eagles were confident he could be the Baltimore Torrey Smith again. They say they still believe that, despite an unimpressive output of 10 catches for 134 yards and no touchdowns through four games. Smith charges himself with four drops on 19 targets.
"No concern," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said this week. "When you play enough and you get enough balls thrown to you … you're going to have your miscues. Sometimes they come in bunches. In the immediate term, we've got a lot of confidence in Torrey. He's been around a long time and has made a lot of plays."
Head coach Doug Pederson said something similarly reassuring on Monday. But there is that qualifier in Reich's response — "in the immediate term." It's something no one needs to explain to Smith.
The support "helps, but you've got a job to do," he said.
Smith added that if he keeps messing up, "It's a completely different thing; I'll be sitting and looking at everybody [else] on the field. That's just how it goes. But that's not [going to happen]. I'll get it together, I'll be making plays. Like I said, when I'm playing the game the way that I play it, it's going to change our offense."
That offense has been stressing the run the past few weeks, partly because neither Smith nor the even-more-ballyhooed free-agent-wide-receiver signee, Alshon Jeffery (17 catches, 215 yards, two touchdowns), has torched any secondaries.
"It all comes with time. We're 3-1, and we have not played our best ball offensively," Smith said. "That kind of makes you feel good in a way – I haven't really done everything I'm capable of. Alshon, [they] haven't really unleashed him. So the fact that we're doing what we're doing offensively, and that hasn't really happened yet gives you hope."
It's apparent that Wentz doesn't have the feel for Jeffery or Smith that he has developed in his second year with tight end Zach Ertz, the Eagles' leading receiver, with 26 catches for 326 yards. Wentz noted Wednesday that he is to blame for missing Smith and Jeffery for big gainers.