KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The pocket was breaking down and Alex Smith was running out of time, so he did what so few quarterbacks in Kansas City have ever been able to do over the years.
Smith took off and picked up a first down with his feet.
He didn’t throw a ball into an impossibly tight space, or tempt double coverage and get picked off. He didn’t stumble around as his offensive line caved in around him, or get chased around by a couple of New York Giants before finally succumbing to a sack.
Instead, Smith remained unflappable under pressure, exuding the kind of poise that infects an entire offense. More than once he scrambled for first downs last Sunday, giving the Chiefs the spark they needed for a 31-7 victory and their first 4-0 start in a decade.
“He seems to handle everything well, and kind of keeps a calm among the chaos,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who has said repeatedly he tried to trade for Smith when Reid was still with the Eagles. “He’s able to keep it all in perspective. He demands a lot of the guys around him in his own way. That’s important. He does that well.”
At some point in time, calling a quarterback a “game manager” became a derogatory description. Guys who throw safe passes, refuse to test sticky-fingered defensive backs, and make sure their teams are put in good positions became blase. By contrast, those willing to fling the ball all over the field with an all-or-nothing mentality grew in popularity.
Smith has always taken the cerebral approach, though. He prides himself on not making mistakes – often to the chagrin of fans who’d rather seem him throw it downfield.
“The most important thing in football is controlling the ball, time of possession,” Chiefs tight end Kevin Brock said. “Guys who control the clock, don’t turn the ball over, they’re the successful guys. If they want to say that’s what he does for us, I’ll take it any day.”
Smith has thrown only 22 interceptions since the 2010 season, the fewest of any quarterback with at least 1,000 pass attempts. The Patriots’ Tom Brady is next with 26 interceptions.
His streak of 160 pass attempts without a pick ended when he threw two last Sunday against the Giants. Even then, only one of them was a badly thrown pass.
Indeed, Smith is a big reason the Chiefs are tied with the Tennessee Titans, their opponent on Sunday, for the NFL’s best turnover margin.
“For me, I’m just making my reads and throwing the ball where it’s supposed to go,” Smith offered by way of explanation. “Just where the defense is telling me.”
Often, the defense has been telling him to run.
Smith has run the zone-read several times this season, but mostly he’s been scrambling when the pressure threatens him. But the result has been the same: He’s on pace to run for more than 600 yards, which would easily be a career high.
“I think it’s something that can help us at times, something I take pride in,” he said. “If they’re going to give me that, I have to make plays with my legs, make them pay. When it is there, take advantage of it, for sure.”
Smith is also on pace to throw for 3,828 yards and 28 touchdowns; both would be career highs. And in what must feel especially gratifying, he’s thrown for more yards and TDs with fewer interceptions than Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who took his job in San Francisco.
More importantly, he has the Chiefs at 4-0. The 49ers are 2-2.
“He took us to the NFC championship when I was with the Niners. People doubted him, but I always knew what type of quarterback he was,” said Titans tight end Delanie Walker. “He knows how to win games. He’s doing a great job over there doing that.”
Not surprisingly, the first thing Walker referenced when was asked for a scouting report on Smith was his ability to manage the game.
“He doesn’t make dumb decisions. He’s not going to turn the ball over,” Walker said. “If the person that he’s looking for is not open, he will check it down. He’s a smart quarterback, he’s not going to do anything to jeopardize a win.”
NOTES: Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (foot blisters), CB Brandon Flowers (knee inflammation), P Dustin Colquitt (knee sprain) and FS Kendrick Lewis (ankle sprain) did not practice Wednesday. … The Chiefs signed OG Chandler Burden to the practice squad and released LB Darin Drakeford.