He is not the Most Valuable Player in the NFL, and he will get no consideration for that award at the end of the season.
But Alex Smith is the right quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, perhaps the most overlooked team in football. He has a wide receiving crew that would be the envy of a lot of high school football teams, but they are laughable at the pro level. Nevertheless, the Chiefs may just be on their way toward winning the AFC West title and they have the kind of mindset to win in the playoffs.
But none of it would matter if Smith was not at the helm here. You put one of the so-called elite quarterbacks in the league on the Chiefs and they saw a receiving crew that included Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and Junior Hemingway as their receivers, and they would throw up their hands, look at head coach Andy Reid, and say, “Are you kidding me?”
Actually, Avery and Hemingway give everything they have on an every-game basis. It’s Bowe who would cause the most angst. On a team marked by effort, attitude and nastiness, Bowe only appears to play when he feels like it. That’s about one game out of every four. The rest of the time, Bowe will make one or two catches, jog around the rest of the time, and look to step out of bounds if another ball comes his way.
Smith has the most pedestrian of passing numbers as he has completed 193-of-291 passes for 1,977 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. If you think that yardage totals seems a little light, you would be right. Smith ranks 23rd in passing yards, one step below Austin Davis of the Rams, and one spot above Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Texans.
But it’s not the company you keep on the statistical rankings that matters. Smith has been through the wars during his career. It certainly started on a high note as he was drafted first overall by the 49ers in the 2005 draft, outdistancing Aaron Rodgers in all the predraft comparisons.
But it was a major struggle after that as Smith took years to learn how to play the NFL game. He was never able to show off his talents on a consistent basis until the 2011 season, when he led the Niners to a 13-3 record and a spot in the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants. They lost in the most painful of fashions when a fumbled punt in overtime led to the Giants’ game-winning field goal.
Instead of going to the Super Bowl to confront Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots, he had to watch Eli Manning go in his place.
The next year, much was expected of the Niners, but head coach Jim Harbaugh had issues with Smith. The biggest issue was that Harbaugh didn’t think Smith was as good as Colin Kaepernick, and Smith ended up with a seat on the bench. Smith had led the Niners to a 6-2-1 getaway at the start of the 2012 season, but he was benched in favor of the explosive and even more athletic Kaepernick.
Smith was 28 at the time and he was fully immersed in the way the NFL did business. He may have been hurting, but he couldn’t let it show. Not if he wanted to continue his career and start for another team.
Everyone knew he had been jobbed, but Smith never let his feelings show. He played the role of the good soldier and waited.
That wait would not end until after the 2012 season, and it was particularly bittersweet to go to the Super Bowl and answer questions about having to serve as the backup in the game he had dreamed of playing in all his life.
Relief would come in the offseason in the form of a trade to Kansas City. Just like Smith had been rejected in San Francisco, Reid had been rejected in Philadelphia after years of service.
Reid sought out Smith as his quarterback, and he traded two second-round picks to get him. Smith and Reid had a bond after their unfortunate exits in San Francisco and Philadelphia, and they were united in their effort to turn the Chiefs into a winner.
Kansas City did well last year and got off to a hot start and finished 11-5. However, they seemed to benefit from an easy early-season schedule, and their season ended in ignominious fashion when they dropped a 45-44 Wild Card game at Indianapolis. The Chiefs had led that game 38-10 early in the third quarter before choking it all away.
Sometimes games like that are hard to erase, but Kansas City has won seven of its last eight games. This is clearly a different season for Smith.
The Chiefs are playing 1970s-style football with a running game and a defense that gets after opposing quarterbacks. That style is not supposed to win in 2014, but Smith doesn’t care. He knows his team has beaten Miami, New England, and Seattle, and that the Chiefs are just starting to touch on what they can do.
He also knows that this is his team, and that his coach is not going to pull the rug out from under him and pull him from the lineup.
Smith’s moment is here. It could be a great one.
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