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NEW ORLEANS – Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
The former Carolina Panthers receiver not only left the NFC South Division, but went to another conference when he chose to join the Baltimore Ravens in free agency last offseason.
The Ravens and Saints meet just once every four years, including on Monday night.
New Orleans (4-6) needs a victory to stem a two-game skid and maximize its chances to win its division.
"Everybody knows what he can do," Saints middle linebacker and defensive captain Curtis Lofton said. "He's been a great player for years. He's out of our division, but we have to play him again."
At least they don't have to deal with him twice this season. Smith has even helped New Orleans' playoff cause — at least up to this point.
Baltimore (6-4) has beaten the three other clubs in the NFC South, and Smith has been a factor in each game, starting with his seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns — including a 61-yard score — against Carolina.
He had five catches for 110 yards, highlighted by a 56-yard TD, against Tampa Bay. He then added three catches for 67 yards, including a 49-yard reception, against Atlanta.
Now comes his latest chance — perhaps the last one for a while — to shine against another team from the NFC South, and it sounds as if Smith loves the fact that it'll come at night, on national television.
"You get real excited. Family members get to see you play," Smith said. "Ex-girlfriends that wished they wouldn't have dumped you, they're questioning themselves right now. So, it's fun."
Baltimore's previous visit to the Superdome came during their 2013 Super Bowl triumph over San Francisco.
Most Ravens aren't accustomed to playing in the dome when it is hostile building and the crowd is reaching deafening decibel levels as a visiting offense tries to get lined up.
But that's never really been a problem for Smith, and he's even familiar with the periodic practice of Saints fans wearing black for night games, as they did for a 44-23 victory over Green Bay last month.
"They're going to be blacked out, making all that noise, and (chanting) 'Who Dat,' and all that good stuff," Smith said. "I'm kind of used to it."
Against New Orleans, Smith has caught 10 touchdown passes — more than he has against any other team — to go with his 99 catches for 1,493 yards against the Saints. He has more yards receiving against only one other team: 1,514 against Tampa Bay, but that could change on Monday night.
Saints coach Sean Payton has joked in the past that he'd send Smith a card and gifts congratulating Smith on his retirement the moment the veteran receiver chose to walk away.
Payton added this week, "It's ready: flowers, the whole nine."
"He has energy. He has juice. He is a guy that obviously looks for the big play opportunities," Payton said. "I love watching him play — his passion. He's tough. There is an energy that he brings with him that is very evident just on watching the tape. When you see him in person, you feel that."
Of course, Smith tends to be productive, regardless of the opponent. His seven previous 1,000-yard receiving seasons tie for second among active players.
In his first season in Baltimore, he has already tied a club single-season record with four 100-yard games, giving him six more games to break it.
So while Carolina's decision to let Smith go suggested that the Panthers guessed the receiver's best days had passed, the Ravens seem quite pleased with the ability and drive Smith still has left.
"Steve's approach to the game, attitude and competitiveness is definitely contagious. He's the kind of guy you just love being around, you just love being around him every day," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The way he works, the way he competes, he loves the game, great personality. Obviously, he's a tremendous player, so he's been really good for us and we really are blessed to have him on our team."
The Saints are not looking forward to dealing with Smith again.
"The good news was he left our division," Payton said. "The bad news was we are playing him this year."
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