Long before Brandon Flowers took the field for a mano-y-mano matchup against Dallas star wideout Dez Bryant on Sunday, Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith knew how much his teammate was looking forward to the showdown.
“You could just see it in his face, man,” Smith said after the Chiefs' 17-16 win. “He was ready. He was so ready.”
It's an attitude of competitiveness Smith shares with Flowers, an attitude a cornerback better have in a defensive system like the Chiefs', which routinely leaves its cornerbacks on an island and asks them to repeatedly battle some of the game's best athletes and perform small wonders.
So to Flowers, the fact he held Bryant ― Dallas' emerging 24-year old star receiver ― to nine catches, 141 yards and a touchdown Sunday with little safety help probably qualifies as the latter.
“I love challenges,” Flowers said. “We knew coming in” that by “putting our safety to the other side of the field, he was going to get a couple receptions. We knew that coming in.”
But while Bryant feasted, Dallas' other receiving threats ― tight end Jason Witten and receiver Miles Austin ― were held in check, combining for just six catches for 43 yards and no touchdowns.
That tradeoff was just fine with Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who said he was “proud” of Flowers for the way he kept battling the 6-foot-2, 222-pound Bryant, who caught 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
“He's going to catch some balls ... I don't care who you put on him, he's going to catch some balls,” Reid said. “You double him up, and then you've got the other guys you have to deal with. That's what they want you to do.”
The Chiefs refused to comply, stubbornly sticking with the 5-foot-9, 187-pound Flowers, even as Bryant racked up five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown by the end of the first quarter and made a handful of impressive grabs during the course of the game, including a diving stab down the sideline in the first quarter.
“I knew what kind of caliber of player he was coming in,” Flowers said. “He's going to make some of those. If I had my head down” because of “catches he made all game, who knows what his” stats “would have been like.”
Flowers, however, was rewarded for his resiliency as the game went on. He said the Cowboys did a good job of mixing up Bryant's routes all game, but over the final 27 minutes, his primary assignment was targeted four times and only had one catch for 13 yards.
“Two dogs going at it,” Flowers said of the matchup. “He likes physical play, he likes hand contact. I like the same thing, so we just tried to battle all through the game.”
To Smith, Flowers' approach made perfect sense.
“The way we play defense, I think he did pretty good,” Smith said. “The offense gets away with so much out there, it's pretty much one-on-ones … as a cornerback, you can't hide in this defense. You can't hide at all.”
Flowers certainly didn't Sunday, either on the field or off. He stood in front of his locker for several minutes after the game, patiently answering questions about his showdown. He would have liked for Bryant's gaudy numbers to be lower, sure, but in this instance, he's not about to dwell on them.
“As long as we got the win,” Flowers said.