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USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The biggest hits Alex Smith may have taken Monday night came well after the Kansas City Chiefs’ 29-20 win over the Washington Redskins was over.
Smith stood at an interview podium in the lowest level of Arrowhead Stadium and listened to question after question that doubled as backhanded compliments to a veteran quarterback who has emerged as an early MVP candidate after leading the Chiefs to a 4-0 record.
“Alex, your first few years here, you had trouble getting that game-winning drive at the end when you really need points. What’s changed?”
Smith nodded, before launching into an explanation of how much time the Chiefs have spent recently in practice working on end-of-game scenarios and two-minute drills. The Chiefs have scored 44 points in the fourth quarter this season, including nine in the final eight seconds against Washington.
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Another reporter spoke up. “Critics say, ‘When Alex Smith scrambles, he doesn’t look downfield …’ “
“They say that? I did not know that,” Smith said, before explaining how Monday night against the Redskins, Washington respected his legs enough that it opened up opportunities to find receivers downfield, particularly on the biggest play of the game.
With the game tied at 20 and 42 seconds remaining, Smith was chased out of the pocket. He ran to his right, and while still moving forward, he launched a pass down the right sideline to receiver Albert Wilson for a 37-yard gain that ultimately helped set up Harrison Butker’s 43-yard game-winning field goal.
The Chiefs added a touchdown as time expired when linebacker Justin Houston recovered a failed attempt at a lateral and ran into the end zone.
Yet questions weren’t done for Smith.
“Alex, you got to show off your toughness here tonight,” a reporter said. “That’s something we haven’t seen a lot of here in Kansas City.”
“Soft,” he said, with a small laugh.
“You know, I hope I’ve showed toughness all the time. I think there are a lot of ways to show toughness as a quarterback, and it’s not always overtly running the football and getting tackled,” Smith said. “I think sometimes the biggest thing for a quarterback is that mental toughness of, you’re getting hit, you’re getting hit, you’re getting hit, and not letting that speed up your time clock, or not letting that affect you, and being able to stand in there and still make throws.”
Reputations can be hard to shake, and for years Smith’s rap was that he was merely a game manager. He wouldn’t lose his teams many games, but he wouldn’t win them either.
Now, he’s one of the biggest reasons the Chiefs are the NFL’s last undefeated team. Smith has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions, with a league-high passer rating of 124.2.
The Chiefs’ final drive Monday night was the perfect illustration of the newly aggressive Smith.
With the game tied at 20 following a Redskins field goal with 50 seconds remaining, the Chiefs could have been conservative, called a couple run plays in hopes that rookie Kareem Hunt would spring a big one, and likely head to overtime.
But head coach Andy Reid and Smith looked for chunks of yards — and quickly. A short pass to running back Charcandrick West, then the deep shot to Wilson, followed by another pass 10 yards over the middle of the field to Chris Conley. In the span of just 20 seconds on the game clock, Smith drove the Chiefs 50 yards, then turned the game over to Butker, a rookie signed six days ago off the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad.
Smith finished the game 27-of-37 for 293 passing yards and one touchdown, a 17-yarder to tight end Travis Kelce in the second quarter. He also had 56 rushing yards on seven carries, including a long run of 32 yards, and scored his first rushing touchdown of the season on an option keeper in the third quarter.
“I’m biased. I think he’s been playing outstanding his entire career, at least the five years I’ve been with him,” Kelce said. “But it’s good to see that he’s finally starting to get the notoriety that I feel like he’s always deserved.”
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones.