Welts creased Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith’s forehead. The bridge of his nose was bruised. His left elbow was flaming red.
If anyone personified what it took to slug out a 17-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, it was Smith.
Smith led the Chiefs in rushing with a career-best 57 yards against a Dallas defense that was crowding the line of scrimmage with the intent of stopping running back Jamaal Charles.
Smith was under constant pressure from Cowboys pass rushers DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher but still completed 21 of 36 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns, and perhaps most important, no interceptions.
“In the trenches, when it’s time to buckle up, he’s all in,” said wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who caught Smith’s second touchdown pass. “You should see the look in his eyes when he’s demanding … and controlling the offense. I never had a quarterback like that.
“He’s tough, he’s not going to back down …”
Smith showed his toughness early when he executed the read option on the first play of the game, called his number and picked up four yards. And Smith showed his courage on the opening drive when on a third-and-13 from the Dallas 35, he sprinted toward the right sidelines, and as he lunged for the chains, was flipped over on his back.
He gained 17 yards and a first down.
“That was a first for me,” Smith said of the head-over-heels tumble. “I’ve never done anything like that. I was just kind of put in that situation, and I thought (the receivers) did a great job of adjusting from route running to all-of-a-sudden blockers on the perimeter.
“I knew I was close to the down marker, so I saw (cornerback Brandon Carr) kind of going low, and then I was in the air.”
Said coach Andy Reid: “I’m glad he flipped over backward that way. He did it with grace …”
Smith’s dive for the first down sent a message to his teammates in a game where yards came grudgingly.
“That inspires you,” said offensive tackle Branden Albert, who returned to the game after suffering a shoulder injury. “My quarterback putting his guts on the line, we’ve got to put our guts on the line. He did a good job making plays for us. The first half he carried us. We had to calm down as a whole, me included.
“We started protecting better, and things started coming together. He did a good job keeping us together in the first half.”
Some of Smith’s runs were by design because of what Dallas was showing.
“We had a few option plays,” said Reid. “We knew Alex had to be a factor in the run game and with the option game, where we have the extra person (Smith) against that eight-man front.
“And then when he had some chances to scramble, there were some nice lanes there, and he took advantage of that. That’s his game.”
Smith would scramble again on the opening possession for 13 yards to the 2, setting up a 2-yard touchdown flip to Charles. He finished the first half with seven carries for 49 yards.
“The (pass) protection was great in the first quarter, especially on the opening drive,” Smith said. “I saw a lot of (Cowboys) backs turned and running … I saw a lot of big lanes to run through.
“It’s not something you’re thinking about, it just kind of happens. All of a sudden you’re taking off. With the kind of style defense they were playing, there were a lot of backs turned toward me and a lot of green grass.”
Smith gave the Chiefs the lead for good with his 12-yard touchdown pass to Bowe. That score was set up when he hit Donnie Avery for the biggest offensive play of the game, a 31-yard hookup.
Bowe ran a delayed route across the middle and broke free untouched for the touchdown.
“That’s how it should be when you have a great quarterback to put the ball on the money,” said Bowe. “I got lost in the middle … we ran it in practice, and it worked every time. “
The two touchdowns on Sunday were the Chiefs’ fifth in five trips inside the 20 this season. Last year, they ranked last in touchdown efficiency inside the 20 at 27 percent.
“Coach Reid always says, all your strengths and all your weaknesses show up down there in the red zone because it’s tighter, it’s faster, and all the windows are smaller,” Smith said. “It’s something we put a lot of emphasis on. We practice hard, we practice fast. The way we practice throughout the week in the red zone is fast, game-like tempo and speed, so that helps.”
The Chiefs also appreciate the importance of not turning the ball over. And after turning it over an NFL-most 37 times last season, they’ve yet to give the ball away this season.
Credit Smith, whose 20 interceptions over the last three-plus seasons are the fewest among NFL starting quarterbacks.
“He doesn’t force things that aren’t there,” said fullback Anthony Sherman. “He knows who’s open, and he has enough speed and makes things happen with his feet when they’re not open.”