KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Every football fan has been through the experience: He watches his favorite team flounder around on offense for most of four quarters, then sees it slice up a defense with the two-minute drill.
Naturally, everyone wonders why teams don't just run their hurry-up offense all the time.
“It's a totally different situation there at the end. I've been asked that a lot,” said quarterback Alex Smith, who led the Chiefs through a near-flawless two-minute exercise in their victory at Denver on Sunday night. “You want to play like that all the time, but it's different.”
Smith had a hard time explaining why it's different, but that doesn't change the reality. The Chiefs struggled simply to pick up first downs until they were faced with an eight-point deficit in the closing minutes, and marched 42 yards for the tying touchdown and 2-point conversion. They went on to win 30-27 on a field goal by Cairo Santos in overtime.
“That defense is a good defense and they have game-changing players,” Smith said. “You look back at their Super Bowl run, the sack-fumbles, the touchdowns and the things they can create. I know we didn't have success early, but we didn't give them those. We eliminated those. Those are the things teams feast off of. We were able to hang around and make adjustments. And then we were able to make plays down the stretch.”
The Chiefs have been criticized all season for their offensive production, which ranks in the bottom third of the NFL in most major categories. Smith has endured the brunt of it, too, not only as the most visible part of the offense, but also because of his own erratic play.
He's missed open wide receivers. He rarely pushes the ball downfield. He has been reluctant to run. And he seems content to check down at the first sign of trouble.
But when the pressure was on Sunday, the veteran quarterback responded. He kept finding unheralded wide receivers and tight end Travis Kelce for first downs, and he threw a dart to Tyreek Hill with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to help force the extra session.
“Yeah, it's weird, but I think the crazier it gets, the calmer he is,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said this week. “That's just how he's wired. It seems to just calm everybody else down. It's a unique thing. It's one of the things that makes him a great player, I think. He handles that very well.”
It wasn't always this way. The Chiefs have struggled going into halftime and at the end of games the past couple of years. But they spent extra time on the two-minute drill during the summer, and again in training camp, and it has paid off in a big way this season. They needed a similarly frantic comeback to beat San Diego in their opener.
So again, shouldn't the Chiefs want to run that tempo all the time?
“The obvious answer to that is yes,” co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said, “but you don't get away from what your identity is as an offense. And you have to understand, the defense is playing differently when you're in the two-minute mode, too.”
The Chiefs (8-3) head to Atlanta on Sunday before turning around to face Oakland on a short week at Arrowhead Stadium. Both offenses are dynamic, and the Falcons' may be the best in the NFL, so there will be pressure on Smith and the rest of the Kansas City offense to keep pace.
At least, for the first three quarters.
They seem to do just fine in the final minutes of the fourth.
“A lot of games in this league come down to that,” Smith said, “so it's something we work hard on. It's one of those things where the more you practice it, the better you are at it. It's all of us being better in a situation like that.”
Notes: DL Kendall Reyes (knee) and DT Dontari Poe (back spasms) did not work Thursday. … Santos was chosen the AFC special teams player of the month. He went 11 for 11 on field goals in November, including that overtime winner against the Broncos.