The moment Alex Smith entered the Chiefs’ locker room following their thrilling 33-27 overtime win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, his teammates — who had been waiting for this moment — greeted him with a loud roar of approval that echoed throughout the lower sanctum of Arrowhead Stadium.
“You saw the love for him when he came in — that was obvious,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid recalled Monday. “They’re happy for him.”
And really, why wouldn’t they be? Over the last several years, Smith — their 32-year-old leader — has run the gamut of emotions in this league. He’s been everything from a franchise savior to a bust, with most assuming his most-recent title — capable game-manager — wouldn’t be changing any time soon.
Part of that was because of Smith’s subpar record in come-from-behind situations. The great quarterbacks in this league have a reputation for getting it done in crunch time, and while Smith has won lots of games the last several years, he simply did not have many, if any, late-game comeback wins on his resume.
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Until Sunday, at least. Smith, who completed 34 of 48 passes for 363 yards and three total touchdowns, was the primary reason the Chiefs rallied back from a 21-point third-quarter deficit to record the greatest comeback win, by margin, in franchise history.
When the Chiefs were in trouble Sunday, it was Smith — who has been given more responsibility at the line than most of Andy Reid’s quarterbacks — who made the right checks at the line, then made the right reads after the snap as he proceeded to deliver to open and not-so-open men alike, displaying a combination of arm strength and touch that led to a steady trickle of completions, yards, and ultimately, points, as he even scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run that was the result of an audible he made at the line of scrimmage.
“I think anytime someone reaches a level that they haven’t reached before, it proves to everybody – the whole room, including himself – that nothing’s impossible,” Reid said. “Hard work, dedication and you can always better yourself, that’s the way Alex approaches things and guys see that. Not only does it help him in his game and his confidence, but it also helps the players around him.”
You see this, Reid added, with the great quarterbacks.
“They make everybody around them better, and you saw that with Alex yesterday,” Reid said. “I would match his second half with anybody that I’ve ever been around and seen in this league. He really made some phenomenal, phenomenal plays.”
Smith’s teammates agreed, whole-heartedly, as many could not wait to sing their quarterback’s praises.
“I believe in him, point-blank period,” said safety Eric Berry, one of the strongest voices on the team. “He’s just got (courage), bro … I see him on a day-to-day basis in practice, and some of the things that he does great don’t show up on field. People don’t realize he puts in great situations. I’ve learned so much from him, like, just asking questions from him about defense and what he’s looking at has helped my game out a lot.
“I’ll always believe in Alejandro, man.”
Berry said this with a grin — Alejandro is apparently his nickname for Alex — but he was dead serious. Tight end Travis Kelce was, too.
“Backyard football, organized football, flag football, I’d play any type of football, any competitive sport with Alex Smith, man,” Kelce said. “That guy’s a competitor, and you know what? At the end, he put that game in his hands and got the dub for us.”
That’s why Smith’s teammates could not wait to celebrate with him on Sunday, as many of them did so before they even got to the locker room. Running back Charcandrick West joked that he almost rolled his ankle trying to celebrate with his “fired up” quarterback, while receiver Albert Wilson ran up to him on the sideline while Smith’s game-winning touchdown run was being reviewed on the field and shared a moment.
“I was like, ‘That’s how you do it, and he was just like, ‘Yeaaaaah!’ ” Wilson recalled with a hearty laugh.
“For him to be able to take the ball in and end the game like that, it’s great leadership. That’s what made me more excited about the situation, because I never got to see him so ‘turnt’ up like that.”
Again, no one could blame Smith for that, as his performance Sunday was the latest indication of his growth as a passer since joining Reid.
Yet, when asked if Smith could have led a comeback like that four years ago, Reid paused for a moment and said yes, if he’d been allowed to grow in a system like his current one instead of floundering under multiple offensive coordinators his first several years in San Francisco.
“He persevered through all of those different coordinators — he’d probably make a great coach because he knows just about every offense that there is,” Reid said. “I think if he would have been in the system that we run here when he came out of college, it just kind of fit his style, game, and abilities and all of that — I don’t think you would be asking that question right now.
“I think if it would have been more consistent for him early, (enough) that we probably wouldn’t have been lucky enough to get him here.”
That said, the Chiefs — who acquired Smith for two second-round picks in 2013 after San Francisco elected to dump him in favor of Colin Kaepernick — are certainly glad things worked out the way they did.
“That’s my leader,” receiver Albert Wilson said.