Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith will miss Sunday’s regular-season finale against San Diego because of a lacerated spleen.
Backup Chase Daniel will start at quarterback on Sunday, just as he did in the regular-season finale a year ago when the Chiefs, with a playoff spot wrapped up, sat their starters at San Diego.
Smith suffered the injury early in the third quarter of last week’s game at Pittsburgh, but the symptoms didn’t manifest themselves until after he practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Chiefs were off on Christmas Day when Smith, who had been feeling discomfort during the week, was examined at the hospital and the diagnosis was made.
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“I didn’t notice anything,” Smith said of any pain immediately after the game. “It wasn’t until after I showered and got dressed and the adrenaline was out of me, I noticed some discomfort in my stomach area … pressure, cramping …
“I thought it was something I ate. I didn’t necessarily relate it to a hit. But definite discomfort. I saw the doctor, he told me some things to keep an eye out for. I even took some antacids. I didn’t know what to make of it.”
Smith said the pain didn’t prevent him from running on Monday and practicing on Tuesday and Wednesday because he didn’t feel any muscular discomfort.
“I had nausea and knew a (flu) bug was going around and thought maybe it was that,” Smith said. “I felt great athletically, running around and throwing. I just had this constant deal going on, and thankfully the doctor urged me to get the test.
“I was pretty reluctant on Christmas Day. I told him, ‘I’m fine, I’ll be all right,’ but he pushed me to get it checked out and make sure everything was okay. Then I got a call that I had a laceration …”
Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said the normal recovery period for Smith’s injury is about six weeks, depending on the individual. But Smith likely would miss most, if not all, of the postseason if the Chiefs qualified for the playoffs.
“If we’re playing three or four weeks from now, we’ll re-scan him and see where he’s at and confer with doctors to see if he could play,” Burkholder said, emphasizing this is not a long-term injury.
“It’s not a surgical case,” Burkholder added. “It will heal on its own, but he’s going to have to have some time down for contact and collisions.”
Smith, 30, didn’t have symptoms after the game was because he did not bleed very much, Burkholder said. Smith had an abdominal scan on Wednesday, which revealed a 3-centimeter laceration in his spleen but hardly any bleeding.
A further examination showed Smith’s spleen was slightly enlarged, with a small laceration, Burkholder said.
Burkholder said from a long-term standpoint, Smith should recover, and the injury is not career-threatening.
“He’s going to be fine,” Burkholder said. “That’s going to heal up. We’ll continue to decide why his spleen is a little enlarged. It may just be him, it could be from the trauma, but we’ll do more studies to cover him and make sure we’re on point.
“The problem is to play with a lacerated spleen, even one that is probably a little less than 3 centimeters … is if he were to take another shot in there, and the laceration would increase, then you have a medical emergency because it is a vascular organ that can bleed.”
Indeed, former NFL quarterback Chris Simms suffered a ruptured spleen while playing for Tampa Bay in 2006. Simms was taken off the field after absorbing some hits against Carolina but returned to the game. He remained in physical distress and was taken to a nearby hospital after the game where tests revealed the rupture, and he underwent emergency surgery.
Smith didn’t feel he had put himself at risk during practice on Tuesday and Wednesday because there is little live hitting, and quarterbacks are not touched at all.
Smith said he’ll be on the sidelines and assist Daniel in Sunday’s game against the Chargers, a game the Chiefs need to win to maintain any hope for reaching the playoffs.
“I talked to Chase (Thursday night),” Smith said. “I really feel like I ate up two practice days of his that would have been important … had we known this earlier … but any way I can help him prepare, and I’ll pass on anything I’ve been thinking about to help us win a game.”
Daniel, in his second season with the Chiefs, has appeared in two games this season, both in mop-up roles. He’s attempted one pass.
Last season, in Daniel’s only NFL start in his five-year career, he completed 21 of 30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown in a 27-24 overtime loss at San Diego.