A.J. Jenkins started playfully shaking his head before the question was even finished.
This was Sunday, the aftermath of the Chiefs’ 24-10 win over the Jets, and the third-year receiver was happy about that. But he also knew he messed up on one play in particular: in the first quarter he caught a short pass for 10 yards and dived 1-yard short of the end zone.
“I should have kept my feet, that’s pretty much what it comes down to,” said Jenkins, who likely would have scored had he just stayed up.”
The Chiefs went on to score, anyway, but had Jenkins scored, he not only would have recorded his first career touchdown, he also would have snapped a mildly embarrassing scoreless streak for the Chiefs’ receivers, who have not reached the end zone once this season.
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“We all know,” Jenkins said.
So does coach Andy Reid, who hasn’t been above ribbing his corps of receivers for their inability to find the end zone.
“Do I give them the business about it, is that what you’re saying? Yeah, I try not to let that slide,” Reid said. “They’re good about it, though.”
It’s easy to be when you’re winning. The Chiefs are 5-3, and winners of five of their past six games, so it’s hard to complain about much. Reid said the receivers are still contributing on a weekly basis, even if all 11 of Alex Smith’s touchdown passes have come to running backs or tight ends.
“Listen, the receivers are making big plays for us,” Reid said. “You saw what Dwayne (Bowe) did for us (Sunday). You look at what A.J. did on the catch, he came close to scoring.”
In fact, Reid said he wasn’t even aware of the streak until told by former quarterback Donovan McNabb, who called the Chiefs’ game against the Rams on Oct. 26.
“Yeah, I know Donovan was hammering me on that when he was here,” Reid said. “I didn’t even think about it until he mentioned it. It doesn’t really bother me, as long as we’re getting in and getting touchdowns.”
The offense has undoubtedly managed to be productive, thanks to Smith, a strong cast of backs and tight ends, a surprisingly adequate offensive line and yes, timely production from receivers. Tight end Travis Kelce is an emerging big-play threat who leads the team in catches (32), yards (419) and touchdowns (four), but Bowe is right behind him with 31 catches for 398 yards.
The Chiefs are now averaging 25 points per game, which is 12th in the league. That’s not bad when you consider they’re averaging 201 passing yards per game, which ranks 29th. But when Smith does chuck it, they are efficient, as his 94.8 rating ties for 11th in the league.
“We use a multitude of formations, motions and shifts to sort of disguise our three-step passing game and that’s been helpful for us as well,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “It’s like the defense disguising coverage and blitz. I think we do the same thing and I think we do it pretty well, I think offensively, with the different motions and shifts, lining up guys in different spots and just utilizing your strengths. That’s really the bottom line, that’s what it comes down to — using the strength of your guys offensively and putting them in the position to be successful.”
The Chiefs’ emphasis on the short, quick passing game has come into focus after a still-baffling season-opening loss to Tennessee in which Smith, who threw three interceptions, went downfield repeatedly to unflattering results.
Though it is unusual for teams to have the offensive production the Chiefs have had without a vertical passing game — their longest completion is 34 yards — Pederson said the Chiefs can keep it up.
“Yeah I think so,” Pederson said. “It’s strange that things have happened that way for us. I think a part of it is our ability to run the football, particularly in the second half, which we did this past weekend. We had success there. The other thing is, if you do throw it short, you expect your guys to break tackles and make longer runs. We just have to continue to use the formula that’s been working for us and continue to grow off of that.”
By the way, it’s not like the Chiefs aren’t trying to get their receivers involved — specifically Bowe, who caught six passes for 55 yards Sunday. Anthony Fasano’s 1-yard touchdown, which he caught on the ground, was originally intended for Bowe before it was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
“When the ball got tipped in the air and Fasano caught the touchdown, we were going to Bowe,” Jenkins said. “So we’re trying to get in there.”
Even if the receivers fell short of that goal again Sunday, Jenkins said, it’s much easier to swallow when things are going well.
“I’m going home with a smile on face, so I’m not tripping,” Jenkins said.