Chase Daniel worked his way from one side of the bench to the other, offering encouragement to each member of the Chiefs’ second-team offense.
This was Saturday, midway through the second quarter of the Chiefs’ 34-19 preseason win over the Arizona Cardinals, and while the crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium may have been sparser than normal, and the television ratings were not the same — all indications of the general lack of fan interest toward NFL preseason games once the starters leave— try telling that to Daniel and the rest of the Chiefs’ backups.
To them, this game mattered. The Chiefs have 90 men on their preseason roster, but only 53 will make the team. So many of them are fighting for jobs, for their livelihoods. And Daniel wanted to remind them of that.
“Yeah, it’s super important — it’s game time man, you’re not hitting yourself anymore,” Daniel said. “You’re playing games, you get four preseason games. You’re only promised 16 regular season games.
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“So you’ve got to get it in when you can, man, especially these twos and threes. This is the time to shine and put it on tape and go out there and play tough. You’re not only auditioning for this team — you’re auditioning for 31 other teams.”
You could argue that the latter statement even applies to the 28-year-old Daniel, who is entering a contract year and has never been a starting quarterback. And if that’s the case, Daniel — who is a valuable member of the Chiefs’ quarterback room and an excellent insurance policy for starter Alex Smith — may have given those teams something to think about next offseason.
Daniel killed it on Saturday, completing 17 of 21 for 189 yards and three touchdowns — on only three drives, no less — to guide the twos to a 31-10 lead before his third quarter departure.
And after a first quarter that featured a rare Alex Smith interception, a big passing play allowed by the defense and a plethora of injuries, it was a welcome sight for Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who was apparently displeased enough with his starting offense to leave that group in for three series, while the starting defense left after only two.
Afterward, Reid — who said the twos and threes played “tremendous“ — praised his backup quarterback’s toughness and ability.
“We feel Chase is a top-caliber quarterback,” Reid said. “We’re fortunate to have Chase here. … He took some hits, and he hung in there. That, to me, separates you a little bit.”
Daniel, to his credit, has also performed well for the Chiefs in two regular-season starts, completing 37 of 57 passes (64 percent) for 357 yards, a touchdown and zero interceptions.
But with the Chiefs trailing 10-3 on Saturday, Daniel entered the game on the Chiefs’ first drive of the second quarter, and he immediately led them on a 12-play, 79-yard scoring drive that he capped with a 13-yard touchdown strike to receiver Fred Williams over the middle.
“It was great,” Daniel said. “It wasn’t the exact look we wanted or we practiced with the play that we had, but he did exactly what he was supposed to do on that and we were able to fit it in right before the back-side safety got in there.”
The touchdown was the fourth time on the drive that Daniel, who completed eight of 10 passes in the series, connected with Williams, who he told before the game to be ready for some footballs to come his way.
“A couple times on Freddy man, I just told him ‘Hey, be ready, just do what we’re in camp,’ because we were starting to tear it up little bit there for a while,” Daniel said.
But the two weren’t done yet, as Williams caught two more passes — including a gorgeous 33-yard completion on a fade down the right sideline during the ensuing two-minute drill — and finished the half with six receptions for 82 yards.
“That was one I just had to trust him, man,” Daniel said of the 33-yard completion. “We ran that play countless times over the past three years. We actually had a guy coming in our face off the edge, and I sort of aborted our play fake and just trusted him, really. I let it go.”
What’s crazy about that play, Daniel said, is the moment he let it go, he got drilled by the defender and spun around. He tried to throw it high and put enough arc on it for Williams to run under it, and he actually got to watch the completion on the scoreboard behind the offense after he was hit.
“I saw the back video board, and he was like, running under it,” Daniel said. “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, he might catch this.’ I was just trying to give him enough room. I was literally looking the opposite way and he caught it. It was amazing.”
A few plays later, it was Frankie Hammond — Daniel’s other favorite target in training camp — who stood out.
Hammond caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Daniel — he was wide open on a post-corner route — that gave the Chiefs a 17-10 lead at halftime.
“He just turned the guy around,” said Daniel, who has shown a steady connection with Hammond throughout training camp. “We practice that play quite a bit. Him and I are on the same page.”
Hammond, who knew he was going to be open the moment he saw the defender undercut him on the post route before his break to the corner, said the hard work he and Daniel have put in together the last three years — both have been on the roster dating back to 2013 — helped them on Saturday.
“The past few years I’ve been with Chase,” said Hammond, who caught two passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. “I mean, we’ve been working, me and Fred, when it comes to Chase, just trying to get on the same page with him.”
By the break, Daniel had completed 13 of 16 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, which is certainly an honest day’s work for a quarterback in the preseason.
“Yeah, he was moving it up and down the field,” Hammond said with a laugh.
Daniel wasn’t done, as he continued dealing at the start of the third quarter, leading the Chiefs on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 3-yard strike to rookie receiver Da’Ron Brown — who also caught a fourth-down pass on the drive and finished with four catches for 30 yards — giving the Chiefs a 24-10 lead.
“Coach wanted to see how the twos would come out after some success, after a two-minute drive, and I thought we answered the bell,” Daniel said. “He wanted to give us one more drive, and Da’Ron played a pivotal role on a fourth-and-3 route, and then the touchdown catch.”
It was a heck of a way to end the day for Daniel, who was replaced by Aaron Murray on the next drive. It was also reminder of why the Chiefs, who were strapped for cash for much of the offseason, didn’t move on from him, even though he has a $4.8 million cap number this year — the last of the three-season deal he signed before the 2013 season.
On Saturday night, even with Daniel gone, the Chiefs’ other backups continued to pour it on. Inside linebacker Ramik Wilson — who dropped a potential interception in the second quarter — picked off a Logan Thomas pass on the next drive, and running back Darrin Reaves scored on a 1-yard plunge that gave the Chiefs a 31-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
On a night in which they were carried by Daniel and his second-team partners in crime at receiver — Hammond, Brown and Williams — that was all the Chiefs needed.
And like any good quarterback — after rallying them together before they entered the game — he made sure he deferred to his supporting cast afterward.
“I just wanted to let guys know that whatever happens, just go out there, play with confidence, play smart, execute the plays that are called and good things will happen,” Daniel said. “I’ve been in this offense for three years now, all these guys have, and they know what to do — just go out there and do it, and they did it tonight, man. Hat goes off to them.”