A Chiefs receiver runs a bad route or drops a pass. A lineman misses a block. Or quarterback Alex Smith overthrows a receiver.
Stuff happens in the NFL.
But when the passes fall incomplete, the protection breaks down or Smith himself makes a mistake, he refuses to beat himself up. Nor will Smith take his frustration out on others by staring down a receiver or barking at a blocker.
Smith’s demeanor and leadership style have had an effect throughout the team, and goes a long way in explaining why the Chiefs traded for him as the first big piece in John Dorsey’s and Andy Reid’s rebuilding of a once-downtrodden franchise.
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Even though the Chiefs’ offense has sputtered the last two weeks, Smith has guided the club to a 6-0 record, and with a victory Sunday against Houston, he can become the second NFL quarterback since 1970 to start a season 7-0 in his first year with a team.
The only other quarterback to do so was Dieter Brock, who joined the 1985 Los Angeles Rams from the Canadian Football League. He started 7-0 and led the Rams to the NFC championship game, where they lost to the Super Bowl-shuffling Chicago Bears.
“He’s a stud,” Reid said of Smith. “The things that he does for this team are unbelievable. He’s making people around him better. He takes the blame for (a bad play) and moves on. That’s what good leaders do. At the same time, he’s able to teach and explain with a clear head and good vision.
“His presence in that locker room and during the game. he talks to everybody. He talks to the offensive side, he talks to the defensive side and has taken a bunch of young guys and has raised their ability.”
It’s not unusual to see Tom Brady or Philip Rivers rail at a teammate or Jay Cutler pout after play that has gone awry, but Smith prefers to kill ’em with kindness.
“When things aren’t in a rhythm and you’re struggling to execute, I don’t think yelling and screaming is the answer,” Smith said. “For me, I say, ‘Everybody calm down a little bit everybody play a little better and everybody do your part.
“That’s my style we’ve got to be able to go out there and think and think on our feet. Not to say there isn’t a time for (screaming) we’re all different, we all have our styles. I try to be myself. As the year goes on and the games get bigger and bigger, you need to have that (calm demeanor).”
Tight end Sean McGrath experienced Smith’s equanimity during Sunday’s game against Oakland when a pass from Smith went through McGrath’s hands.
“Throughout the course of a game, there are going to be peaks and valleys,” McGrath said, “and he’s so level-headed throughout the whole thing, it’s impossible to be led astray.
“We look at him as someone to set the bar for what our offense is doing. He does an excellent job of keeping his composure.”
In those situations, Smith will take the receiver aside and tell him what he was thinking and what he was seeing.
“He’ll say, ‘I’m going to put the ball here, let’s try to work this,’” Reid said. “He’ll ask, ‘What were you thinking on it?’ and they come to a point, and it works the next time.
“Very seldom will you see a back-to-back problem. They normally fix it. That tells you the players around him have a lot of trust in him.”
Still, Smith has to pick up his end of the offense.
His completion percentage has dropped in each of the last three weeks from season-best 62.9 against Philadelphia to a season-worst 45.2 against Oakland. He has not thrown a touchdown pass in the last two games, and his passer rating has dropped each week since a season-best 95.0 in week two against Dallas to a season-low 56.9 against the Raiders.
“I watched a lot of the Chiefs offense,” said CBS lead analyst Phil Simms, who will work Sunday’s game, “and I didn’t see a lot of open receivers. And when they had open receivers, I didn’t see a lot of protection. That happens to quarterbacks.
“We were like that in 1986,” Simms said of the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants. “I didn’t think we’d ever complete a pass, and all of a sudden it seems to click.”
So while Smith may be the 22nd-ranked passer in the NFL, he has thrown just three interceptions and is one of only two quarterbacks who are unbeaten.
“He’s a calm, collected guy,” guard Jeff Allen said. “When things aren’t going right, he doesn’t panic. He continues to push through all our miscues, and when a play’s there to be made, and we need to make one, he finds a way.”