During his 11-year career, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has gained a well-deserved reputation for being risk-averse.
But with more weapons to work with this season — including a bona fide No. 1 receiver in former Missouri standout Jeremy Maclin — Smith has started to become more aggressive, particularly during the Chiefs’ current nine-game winning streak.
At least one play in the Chiefs’ 17-13 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday is evidence of this. Early in the first quarter, with the Chiefs facing second and 10 at the Browns’ 11, Smith dropped back and threw a dart to Maclin between a triangle of Browns defenders. Maclin dived and hauled it in for a touchdown.
“Jeremy got a great route and hit the gap and void where they weren’t. I felt good about it,” Smith said. “I felt good about ripping it in the back of the end zone, (where) kind of him or nobody (would catch it). He made a great catch.”
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It was the kind of throw Smith has passed on attempting in the past, particularly in the red zone. And it was the latest bit of proof that the same quarterback who failed to throw a single touchdown pass to a receiver all last season will indeed take a leap of faith in the red zone with a receiver, as long as the trust is there.
“I think a big part of it is the guy at the other end — you’re trusting him,” Smith said of the throw. “There are a lot of adjustments that could be happening in that route, and he sees it the exact same way you do, and you trust that he is.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said the trust that has developed between his $68 million quarterback and $55 million receiver is something that has matured with time and that the touchdown throw was an example of the hard work paying off.
“That’s about as tight a window as you’re going to have. He has to fit it in between the safeties, the corner and then that linebacker that’s kind of splitting that triangle right there and right off of his ear,” Reid said. “It’s not a very big window, so there’s got to be a massive amount of trust there.”
Maclin’s body of work this season also reflects that trust. With the 11-yard touchdown catch, he crossed the 1,000-yard barrier, becoming only the eighth wide receiver in Chiefs history to do so in a single season.
What’s more, Maclin — who leads the Chiefs in catches with 84, the club’s highest single-season reception total since tight end Tony Gonzalez had 96 in 2008 — also became the first Chief to eclipse 1,000 yards in four years and only the fourth player to do so under Reid, who is in his 17th season as a head coach.
“He’s really a smart guy, so you can move him around,” Reid said. “I think that gives you a little flexibility in the offense to do that. Are we doing a lot of different things? Not necessarily. But with him, we can put him in different spots. He handles all that very easily.”
But after the Browns game, Maclin wasn’t interested in reflecting on his 1,000-yard accomplishment at his locker. Not even in the least bit.
“That’s a measuring stick the experts and the reporters and everybody use,” said Maclin, 27. “That’s not really what I use for myself.”
So crossing the 1,000-yard plateau as a Chief wasn’t a benchmark?
“Nah,” Maclin said. “I’ll tell you one thing — (the) playoffs is, and that’s (where) we’re (going) now.”
Maclin has said repeatedly that he does not care about his personal stats. He’s got his money, courtesy of a five-year free-agent deal he signed after bolting Philadelphia in March, but he still wants respect.
The best way to do that is by winning games, and there’s little doubt Maclin’s play during the season — when he’s racked up 84 catches for 1,034 yards and seven touchdowns — has played a large role in helping the Chiefs go 10-5 and clinch a playoff berth.
“It seems like every week we look back at the film and I felt like I could have gone Jeremy’s way more … because he just consistently wins,” Smith said. “Even when they try and take him away, he consistently wins. He’s that type of player.”
Yet at the same time, Smith knows Maclin is more into getting the win than getting his stats.
“I think the great thing about him is that he is all team-first,” Smith said. “All he cares about is winning.”
That’s another reason Maclin wasn’t doing back flips about his accomplishment on Sunday. He was happy with the win, but he also knew the game was closer than it should have been, given the Browns’ 3-12 record.
“We all know that we can play better,” Maclin said. “I don’t think we met our expectations today.”
But there’s little doubt Maclin has met the Chiefs’ expectations this season. He needs only three catches in the regular-season finale Sunday against Oakland to break the club’s all-time single-season receptions record for a wide receiver, held by Dwayne Bowe.
Maclin’s quarterback, for one, is grateful to have him in Kansas City.
“I think with me, it’s proven that Jeremy (Maclin) sees (the game) very well. He’s going to make good decisions out there,” Smith said. “He sees it like a quarterback.”
Reid for a thousand
In 17 years, Andy Reid has coached only four receivers who have broken the 1,000-yard barrier before Jeremy Maclin.