NFL MVP through 5 games? Alex Smith

Cecil Whig - - NATIONAL SPORTS -

(TNS) — A year ago, this idea might have seemed pre­pos­ter­ous.

Not that he was bad. Alex Smith sel­dom was bad. Just, well, or­di­nary.

But for the first five games of this sea­son, any­way, the Chiefs quar­ter­back has been the most valu­able player in the NFL ... al­beit with bud­ding rookie of the year Ka­reem Hunt hov­er­ing nearby.

After Smith was the cat­a­lyst in a vic­tory over the Tex­ans on Sun­day, the Chiefs are 5-0, the only un­de­feated team in the league for a cou­ple of weeks now.

His raw stats are im­pres­sive enough, both against the Tex­ans (29 of 37 for 324 yards and three touch­downs) and on the sea­son (121 of 158, 1,391 yards and 11 TDs with no in­ter­cep­tions).

But it’s the stuff be­hind the num­bers that an­i­mates his im­pact on the sea­son so far, like be­ing more will­ing — and able — to go down­field, throw­ing re­ceivers open, ex­tend­ing plays out of the pocket and the mul­ti­ple es­cape acts on third and long that de­fined his game against the Tex­ans.

It re­mains to be seen to what de­gree this can be sus­tained, of course, es­pe­cially as the Chiefs con­tinue to lose roughly a player a game to in­jury — the latest be­ing Chris Con­ley to an ap­par­ent rup­tured Achilles’ ten­don that fig­ures to end his sea­son and Travis Kelce to a prob­a­ble con­cus­sion that would seem to have him out for at least a week.

And while the Chiefs were with­out Kelce for the sec­ond half, it mer­its not­ing that the Chiefs no doubt ben­e­fited Sun­day from the Tex­ans los­ing J.J. Watt and Whit­ney Mer­cilus to in­juries on the first drive of the game.

That said, this is less about some sort of hot streak than it is a com­bi­na­tion of forces that have bub­bled up the best in Smith and es­tab­lished a mind-set that isn’t go­ing away.

It’s tempt­ing to think this is about one par­tic­u­lar thing or an­other that’s pro­voked this, but the in­gre­di­ents are in­sep­a­ra­ble.

For in­stance, con­sider what run­ning back Char­can­drick West had to say after Smith con­nected with him for two touch­down passes — in­clud­ing an ad-libbed 8-yard throw on which Smith had roamed to his left be­fore plant­ing and fir­ing the ball back to his right in the end zone.

“He’s com­ing in with a point to prove; I feel like he’s got a point to prove, you know?” West said. “We all know the sit­u­a­tion here. We ain’t got to talk about that. He’s com­ing in, he’s mak­ing a lot of de­ci­sions hard for a lot of peo­ple.”

The ref­er­ence, nat­u­rally, was to the Chiefs trad­ing up to 10th over­all in the 2017 NFL draft to pick Smith’s suc­ces­sor, Pa­trick Ma­homes, a move that some be­lieve stoked a fire un­der Smith.

In fact, a back-burner sub­plot of this game was what it might have looked like to see Ma­homes start­ing against Deshaun Wat­son, whom the Tex­ans picked 12th over­all in a se­lec­tion that will be mea­sured against that of Ma­homes for years to come.

In a sense, though, the draft matchup was re­flected in a game that fea­tured Wat­son throw­ing for five touch­down passes but la­bor­ing at times.

Call it co­in­ci­dence, but since the Chiefs drafted his in­evitable re­place­ment, Smith is play­ing much closer to the ceil­ing of his po­ten­tial than he per­haps ever has.

But while you could make fine cases for the idea he has been pushed by Ma­homes’ pres­ence to be more ag­gres­sive, or that he has de­cided since the end in Kansas City is near there’s noth­ing to hold back, those ideas don’t tell the whole story.

For one thing, there’s some­thing that seems in­sult­ing about sug­gest­ing Smith some­how only has picked up his game in re­sponse to a per­ceived threat to his job: He’s a fierce com­peti­tor who has never been com­pla­cent.

For an­other, that doesn’t ac­count for Smith hav­ing the best pro­tec­tion and most di­verse arse­nal he’s ever had in Kansas City, sig­ni­fied by the trio of Hunt (29 car­ries for 107 yards), Kelce (eight catches for 98 yards in the first half) and Tyreek Hill, with whom he con­nected on a key 38-yard pass on a third and 16.

So from where coach Andy Reid sits, he doesn’t see Smith sud­denly play­ing with more aban­don.

“I think it’s more just trust in the guys that he’s got out there,” he said. “All these kids, he kind of raised and knows about ev­ery move they’ve got. They like play­ing with him, and they know ev­ery move he’s go­ing to make.

“So it’s kind of a good mar­riage right there.”

While Reid ac­knowl­edged Smith seems more con­sis­tently able to ex­tend plays, he also at­trib­uted that to the chem­istry among the group.

“Eyes are down­field, see­ing things, kind of knows where ev­ery­body’s at and ... where these guys are go­ing,” said Reid, who also cred­ited of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Matt Nagy with do­ing a “phe­nom­e­nal job putting things to­gether that are Alex’s best stuff.”

Through some fu­sion of all this, Smith has been at his peak — and is cre­at­ing a crit­i­cal mass for a Chiefs of­fense that has been just as sound as ever (no turnovers since the first play from scrim­mage) while adding flour­ishes it’s never had be­fore with Smith at the helm.

In the process, Smith has been the MVP of the NFL for the first five games of the sea­son.

That won’t even be so much as a trivia ques­tion if it doesn’t hold up.

But if it does, and for many rea­sons it’s built to be that way, he will be the key to some­thing far more than an or­di­nary sea­son.

TNS PHOTO

Kansas City Chiefs quar­ter­back Alex Smith (11) de­liv­ers a pass in the fourth quar­ter dur­ing the Kansas City Chiefs and Wash­ing­ton foot­ball game in Ar­row­head Sta­dium on Monday, Oct. 2 in Kansas City, Mo.

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