Early in the third quarter of Sunday’s dominance of the Oakland Raiders, the Kansas City Chiefs called on wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to throw a pass on an end around. Looking for a receiver, Maclin found none. So he threw the ball away.
Maclin’s incompletion, on his only pass of the game, matched the total accumulated up to that point by the Chiefs’ quarterback, Alex Smith, who put the ball up quite a bit more than Maclin, but not so much as to over-do it.
Smith’s dissection of the Raiders by a score of 26-10 reminded professional football fans in Northern California of the wonderfully efficient days he sometimes enjoyed in 2011 and 2012 when he used to pitch in Candlestick Park for the San Francisco 49ers. Eventually, he lost his job to the bullpen, which consisted of Colin Kaepernick, who got himself his first start of the year Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
If you watched the two of them from the comfort of your neighborhood bar stool, you saw a pair of quarterbacks flying on different trajectories.
Protests and statistics aside, the main thing that separates the two is what Red Sanders and Vince Lombardi called the only thing about football that matters, and that is winning.
Smith and Kaepernick once competed against each other to gain the favor of the old 49ers coach, Jim Harbaugh. Kaepernick, who won Harbaugh’s heart and took him to a Super Bowl, lost badly on a 49ers team now hurdling down a train wreck of a season. Smith, who probably could have maneuvered San Francisco to the same Super Bowl XLVII showdown with Baltimore that ultimately featured Kaepernick, disrupted the Raiders’ playoff plans and re-established his Chiefs as a meaningful contestant in the AFC West. His club is now even with the league-leading Raiders and Denver Broncos in the all-important loss column. Each of the three has two setbacks, in what is shaping up as an exciting pennant race.
Smith has led the Chiefs to the playoffs in two of the past three years. After Sunday, you’re led to conclude he could well do it again this season.
Against the Raiders, he completed 19 of 22 passes for 224 yards to nine receivers. It would have been 10, except that his hitch pass that resulted in a touchdown for Dontari Poe, a 346-pound nose tackle, was ruled a lateral. Poe occasionally comes into games as a short-yardage blocking specialist. This time, he lined up outside the tackle box and as an eligible receiver from the Oakland 1-yard line. The ball traveled backward slightly before Poe collected it and barged into the end zone, so the play was ruled a run rather than a pass.
The decision deprived Smith of a stat.
“I was a little bummed to see they called it a lateral,” Smith said afterward.
The TD was Poe’s second in as many touches in as many years. Both came from a yard out. Last year, he lined up as a fullback during Week 11 in San Diego and scored on a hand-off. That makes Poe a model of efficiency, same as Smith, although Smith is asked to do more in the Kansas City offense, which only seems fair, given that the Chiefs employ Poe on quite a few more snaps along the defensive line than they do Smith.
Efficiency is a hallmark for any successful NFL quarterback, especially for those like Smith who are not known for their rocket arms. Rather than fire on command, the efficient are only asked to get their offenses into good plays and try to make them work a high percentage of the time. It is exactly what Smith did on Sunday.
“Every game’s different,” Smith said. “Every challenge every week is different – matchups and game plans. You’re executing. You’re winning your plays. You know you can’t control everything – there’s a lot of stuff that goes into that – but play in and play out, you’re doing your job at a winning level.”
The weather was bad Sunday, but the Chiefs’ win made all of K.C. feel like it was playing in the Sunshine Band.
It was so predictable, really. Their coach, Andy Reid, went into the game with a 15-2 record on those occasions when his team had an extra week of recovery as a result of the bye, as the Chiefs had on Sunday. Make it 16-2 now.
Also, the week before the one they took off, the Chiefs got killed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 43-14. They surely looked forward to putting that kind of stench behind them. You can bet today that nobody standing on the corner of 12th Street and Vine is thinking about Pittsburgh any more.
A smashing Kansas City running game made Smith’s burden so much easier Sunday. Spencer Ware gained 131 yards on 24 carries. Two other Chiefs, including Jamaal Charles, who was back for the first time since he wrecked a knee in last year’s fifth game, gave them 182 yards on the ground. Throw in Touchdown Poe’s play and you’ve got 183.
The Raiders’ day effectively came to an end with 7:14 left in the game and them on the Kansas City 20. Carr dropped back to pass, and with nobody open, he scrambled. Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford knocked the ball out of Carr’s arms and Kansas City recovered the fumble. Game over.
You’ll remember that Kansas City drafted Ford in the first round in 2014, even though Carr – a major up-and-comer, despite a lousy Sunday – was available.
The Chiefs, however, didn’t need a quarterback. They already had one who is fairly efficient.