Is there any team more surprising than the Kansas City Chiefs?
Is it because of the record setting start from rookie back Kareem Hunt (who’s 372 second half yards alone are enough to lead the NFL)? Is it the return to dominance from Justin Houston? Did the Chiefs finally realize some unearthed potential?
I’d say it’s a little of all those, but they’re not the main reason.
The Chiefs have always had a quality running game under Andy Reid. Even without Jamaal Charles, he coaxed quality performances out of Spencer Ware,and even Charcandrick West here and there. Houston has always been dominant, recent bias toward Khalil Mack be damned, and now that he’s healthy, the NFL’s offensive lines are getting served with the best edge defender in football. Kansas City, thanks to Reid, former GM John Dorsey, and a host of other great football minds, has built a quality roster that they’ve re-stocked through good drafts and shrewd free agency moves.
With that being said, what is the variable that took the Chiefs from a good team that couldn’t get over the hump to a team poised to make a championship run?
Statistically, this is one of the worst Chiefs defenses we’ve seen, and despite the lack of big plays from Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs keep plugging away. They’ve blown every offseason notion regarding the lack on offense out the water, and that’s because their most important player is finally playing like he’s their most important player.
Through four weeks, it’s resurfaced time and time again, but it was the game-winning drive last Monday Night that will go down as one of Smith’s finest moments.
With 42 seconds left in a 20-20 game with the Washington Redskins, behind a depleted offensive line, the Chiefs could’ve run out the clock (Thankfully we don’t employ Jamaal Charles anymore…). They also could have kneeled and simply been content with a tie and took their chances in overtime. Instead, Smith stood tallest in the brightest lights. His 37-yard scramble and toss to Albert Wilson might be the best pass I’ve seen from Smith in a Chiefs uniform. Rolling right and throwing without setting his feet, his planted a ball almost exactly on the front of Wilson’s helmet, and the latter did an extraordinary job holding on through a big hit. The Chiefs would eventually settle for Harrison “Butt-Kicker’s” Butker’s game-winning field goal.
The Chiefs weren’t supposed to have a big play offense. According to many, it wasn’t even supposed to be good. That would’ve held true if Smith was playing like he did last season, seemingly fine with minimizing turnovers while also running a minimum offense. According to PFF, Smith’s big time throw percentage is top ten in the league (64.3% completion percentage on passes of 20+ yards or more with a 147.3 passer rating compared to 72.8 rating and 39.1% in 2016 – the largest improvement in the league) but his turnover-worthy throw percentage is one of the lowest (8 TD, 0 INT). His sudden accuracy on the deep ball is shoving the Chiefs towards another division title, and maybe even a serious Super Bowl run.
What’s different about Smith this season is that he doesn’t care what you think. Smith will probably never become a Hall of Fame quarterback, and might not ever win a Super Bowl, but it’s been his ability to shut out all the talk around him and be himself that has made the Chiefs such a threatening team. Much of that can be attributed to the presence of a young gunslinger in Patrick Mahomes, but a lot of that has also come from Smith maturing as an NFL quarterback and more aggressive play-calling. Smith might be in his 13th season, but he lost a lot of time with the terrible 49ers teams from the earlier parts of this decade. People forget that he is, in many ways, behind a lot of quarterbacks playing right now. It’s taken him time to lose the bad habits, like taking his eyes from downfield when under pressure, and embrace the new Alex Smith that we’re suddenly very exited to watch. The reality is that this version of Smith has always been there, he’s just now trusting himself to make these plays (he’s the only QB in the NFL to have his top three targets all averaging more than 10 yards a catch)
I’ve never been a Smith fan, and won’t ever be, but Chiefs and NFL fans alike should embrace the story one of its most mistreated players rising up and taking the league by storm. It’s too early to say how this season may end for the Chiefs, and the endless questions about Smith’s future will certainly ring louder as the season draws to a close. For now, Alex Smith is giving us a start to the greatest season he’s ever had – this late in his career. He doesn’t care about what will be done to him, only what he does with what’s been given him.
And that’s the character of a champion.
The next step toward a championship comes tonight at Houston (7:30) on Sunday Night Football, as the Chiefs try to remain as the league’s only unbeaten.
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