KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alex Smith was an MVP candidate and the Chiefs were Super Bowl contenders six weeks ago.
Neither appears to be true right now.
The quarterback whose exceptional play early in the season had Kansas City off to a 5-0 start can’t seem to do anything right, and a collapsing team that routed the Patriots on the road and beat the Eagles at home wasn’t even able to beat the lowly Giants last weekend.
Now, fans who had finally warmed to Smith after three relatively mediocre seasons are calling for coach Andy Reid to give first-round pick Patrick Mahomes II a chance under center.
Even though the Chiefs, at 6-4, still have a two-game lead in the AFC West.
“You have to have a sense of urgency,” Smith acknowledged. “Plenty of teams have started out hot, but you have to be able to continue to get better. Certainly, these games get bigger and bigger as the season goes on, and we have to find a way to win.”
There are more reasons than just Smith’s performance for Kansas City losing four of its past five games.
Chris Conley went down with a season-ending injury, and fellow wide receiver Albert Wilson has been out with a hamstring injury, robbing Smith of two of his top targets. Kareem Hunt has been bottled up and an offensive line carrying a big price tag hasn’t lived up to it.
But besides the center, the quarterback is the only one with the ball in his hands every play, and more than anyone else his successes and failures are laid bare for everyone to see.
Lately, there have been more failures than successes for Smith.
He began the season with 18 touchdown passes without an interception, two shy of the NFL record, but has thrown three picks without a touchdown pass since that point. The two picks he lobbed against the Giants last weekend led to the nine points needed for New York to force overtime.
When the Chiefs won the coin toss and received the ball, Smith was only able to engineer one first down before they punted. The Giants responded by driving to a game-winning field goal.
“The margins are so small, right? Going through this tape, everybody has to be kicking themselves,” Smith said. “‘If this guy would’ve done this, or if I would’ve just done that.’ I think they are there. It’s just a matter of doing those little things.
“I think we have the personnel. I think we have the plan and the coaches,” he added. “Then again, it’s a different matchup every week and we have to find a way to get ready and go against that.”
The matchup this week is the freefalling Bills, another opportunity to get right.
Reid has always been Smith’s biggest supporter, and he certainly isn’t close to starting Mahomes over him.
But that didn’t stop the Chiefs’ coach from calling Smith out in a subtle way, saying that it’s the responsibility of the man under center to get the offense in rhythm.
“Right now it’s one of those things where we’re off by one tick on one play,” Reid said. “He’s a standup guy and he’s always going to tell you he can do better.”
Reid also said that dissecting the tape often casts Smith’s performance in a different light.
“You can take an interception and you can say the quarterback threw the ball, but was there a late pressure on his arm? Was there a route that was run at 12 yards instead of 20 yards? Those are the things we look at and analyze,” he said.
“So what looks like a botched play by the quarterback, inevitably he’ll take responsibility for it, but there are other things I look at that go into that.”
To his credit, Smith has owned his performance over the past few weeks, and he remains optimistic that the Chiefs are still capable of turning things back around.
The goal is still a deep drive into the playoffs, something that was expected six weeks ago but now seems as if it’s a longshot.
“That’s the goal, no question,” he said. “The first thing you have to do is punch your ticket to the dance. You have to get into the tournament. Until you do that, you should be focused on every single one of these games, and one at a time.”
NOTES: LBs Dee Ford (back) and Terrance Mitchell (concussion) missed practice Wednesday, while Wilson returned for the first time in weeks. It’s still unclear whether he will play Sunday.