Kansas City Chiefs  


Alex Smith continues to be just what the Kansas City Chiefs need


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Alex Smith would never say this, but there was a certain joy in his latest win that seemed to outweigh the previous one.

The Chiefs quarterback didn't lead his team to a 27-20 victory over Philadelphia with the same package of highlight-reel plays he produced in a season-opening blowout of the mighty Patriots. Smith did it with grit, resolve and understated moments.

In other words, Smith operated with the same trademark efficiency that has been so critical to what Kansas City has become.

There's been a lot of early-season talk about the new Alex Smith, especially after he lit up New England for 368 yards and four touchdowns. It's more accurate to say this is simply a better version of the same guy. Anybody who thought Smith was going to continue generating crazy numbers on a weekly basis was living a fantasy. The pragmatic signal caller who showed up this past Sunday is more of what the Chiefs ultimately need right now.

That 42-27 win over New England was something to behold, make no mistake. Just as impressive was the way Kansas City battled through adversity against an Eagles team that surprisingly made for a much tougher opponent.

"It's the NFL -- everyone is good, and those guys are really good," Smith said, after completing 21 of his 28 passes for 251 yards and one touchdown. "To continue to fight, not get frustrated, to stay together and find a way -- I think that's important. I think good teams do that."

On paper, Smith's performance looked far different than it did 10 days earlier. He didn't throw two touchdown passes that covered at least 75 yards, as he did against the Patriots. Instead, his most important throw of the game was a 35-yard dart that he delivered to Chris Conley late in the fourth quarter, a play that eventually allowed the Chiefs to take a 27-13 lead. Smith also had a key 5-yard scramble on a third-and-4 earlier in that quarter, a dash that ultimately led to a 15-yard touchdown strike to tight end Travis Kelce on a shovel pass.

It's easy to forget about that completion to Conley because rookie sensation Kareem Hunt concluded that drive by fighting his way to a 2-yard touchdown run. It's easy to overlook Smith's run because Kelce exploded into the air at the 5-yard line and dragged two defenders into the end zone by the time he landed. Give credit to Smith's more exciting teammates for the style points. Just remember that Smith set them up with his own, less spectacular efforts.

This is nothing new in Kansas City, by the way. The Chiefs have now won 43 of the 63 regular-season games Smith has started since Smith was traded to this franchise in 2013. But he's also become their most polarizing player in the process. The people who like him talk about those wins, his efficiency and the fact that he doesn't hurt his team with bone-headed mistakes. The people who doubt him point to his conservative nature, his inability to push this team deep into the postseason (Kansas City is 1-3 in the postseason with Smith at quarterback) and how he's yet another reminder that Chiefs fans endured 33 years of watching their team not use a first-round pick on a potential franchise quarterback.

When that first-round pick came this year in the form of Patrick Mahomes, a big-armed gunslinger with plenty of Brett Favre in him, the town went crazy. Lost in the shuffle: How Smith was preparing to lead this team once again after helping it win the AFC West in 2016. Smith did recently admit during an interview with syndicated television host Graham Bensinger that it was "awkward" when Mahomes first arrived and that it likely will be the QB's last year in Kansas City. However, the theory that Mahomes has pushed Smith to become more aggressive -- Smith has produced just eight 300-yard passing games in his 13-year career -- doesn't seem entirely valid.

It's difficult to see an eventual successor rattling Smith, because he's already overcome so much in this league, including: six offensive coordinators in his first seven years in San Francisco; one head coach who questioned Smith's willingness to play through a shoulder injury that later required surgery (Mike Nolan); another who revived his career before benching him in favor of Colin Kaepernick when Smith was playing his best ball (Jim Harbaugh); and countless critics who openly proclaimed that the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft would never amount to anything before he turned around his career. The presence of Mahomes might have made life a bit weird for Smith. What it didn't do was make Smith feel insecure about who he is or what he does.

When asked about the change in Smith this season, head coach Andy Reid said, "I just want Alex to be Alex, that's all. We've added stuff, which we do every year. The more he's been in it, the more input he's had. We feel very comfortable with his suggestions on things ... But no, I just want him to be him -- that's the main thing. I don't want him to look anywhere other than getting ready for the game, whatever game it is, get ready for it and then be yourself."

The Chiefs have helped Smith this season by giving him the best supporting cast he's ever had during his time with the franchise. Kelce is the best tight end in football after New England's Rob Gronkowski. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill is the most electric talent in the league, a player who is just as dangerous as a ball carrier and return man. The offensive line is more stable, the defense has an array of playmakers and Hunt is a first-year phenom with superstar written all over him.

What this should tell you is something that always has been obvious about Smith: If you put better talent around him, then he's going to do his part, as well. He's never going to be Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers -- and that's perfectly fine. Most teams in the NFL aren't going to be fortunate enough to have that kind of superior talent at quarterback. The smart ones figure out a way to compete without it. This might explain why Smith was so willing to downplay his efforts when asked if he played his best game ever against the Patriots.

"I know statistically, stats are really popular, and people look into that stuff," he said. "There are a lot of games where your QB rating isn't that great, but maybe you played an opponent that really was dialed in that week and presented a bigger challenge, and you played great. You played lights out, but your numbers didn't necessarily match it, and you did everything you could to help the team win. If you just look at the stat line, maybe so, but I think there is a lot more to it."

Smith gave that answer four days before he played a game that backed up that thought process. The Eagles sacked him four times and harassed him on countless other snaps. Smith missed a chance at a touchdown pass when he overthrew Hill in the end zone in the first half. The Chiefs led by just three points, 6-3, after two quarters, and there was little energy in Arrowhead Stadium.

These are the games that people often forget over the course of a long season, largely because wins over defending Super Bowl champions on national television feel so much sexier. However, these are the kind of victories that eventually mold champions, and they're the kind of triumphs Alex Smith loves to achieve. Beating the Patriots proved that he actually could lead the Chiefs to the mountaintop this year. Beating the Eagles showed something just as important -- that Smith can still do the little things that this team so desperately needs to get there.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.



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