Let’s start with the high-five that never came. You may have missed this in the joyous chaos of a touchdown celebration. The score covers 69 yards on a perfectly delivered spiral from Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel to tight end Travis Kelce, who then makes a mockery of the Bengals secondary by outrunning everyone to the end zone.
Touchdown. Daniel chases the play, arms in the air, smile on his face but when he gets down the field Kelce is doing … well, he is doing some sort of celebration dance and then runs to the sideline past Daniel. After the game, in the locker room, it is suggested that Kelce left Daniel hanging on a high-five.
“Did he?” Daniel says.
One locker over, starting quarterback Alex Smith smiles.
“(Chase) didn’t know the dance,” Smith says. “He definitely didn’t know the dance.”
Now Daniel is laughing. He is remembering.
“I tried to stay out of that dance,” he says. “I was trying to get his attention, but he was going nuts.”
Daniel smiles some more. It was a good night, mostly. The Chiefs beat the Bengals 41-39 in their first preseason game Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium. Daniel threw a horrible interception, the kind of mistake that he is paid millions of dollars to not make — a wild overthrow near the Chiefs’ own goal line, intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
But, like we say, it was a good night, mostly. Daniel responded to a bad mistake like a pro. After the pick, he led consecutive scoring drives, completing eight of 10 passes for 126 yards and the no-high-five touchdown pass to Kelce.
There has been some thought around the Chiefs training camp that the job as Smith’s top backup is a more open competition. Maybe that’s a surprise.
Daniel is, especially here locally, one of the better-known players living the Not For Long life this Chiefs preseason. He signed a $10 million contract, is the only quarterback behind Smith with a modicum of experience, and played well when the starters sat in the regular-season finale in San Diego last year.
For his part, Daniel knows the interception is unacceptable — “No excuses, it just sailed on me” — but he is looking up on the depth chart, not down.
“I’m still the backup,” he says. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Later, he reiterated.
“I view myself as the No. 2,” he says. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. That’s how I do it. I’m just going to go out there every day and take care of my job.”
If body language means anything, this is more than athlete-speak. Of the quarterbacks who threw a pass — Smith, Daniel and Tyler Bray — Daniel looked by far the happiest afterwards.
Bray is Daniel’s chief competition for the backup spot, and showed his own good and bad sides. Bray made a nice play on a third-and-long, stepping up in the pocket, strong with the ball through the fringes of a pass rush, and connecting with tight end Demetrius Harris over the middle. That’s the kind of play that has coaches intrigued, showing athleticism and a strong arm to create a big gain out of a simmering mess.
But then came Bray’s weakness. After a delay of game, he lost pocket awareness and then then ball — getting stripped on a sack near the red zone. The Chiefs scored a touchdown with Bray on their next possession, but that was almost entirely about Cyrus Gray and the offensive line. Bray completed just one pass for seven yards on the drive.
After the game, Reid didn’t say much about Daniel or Bray other than pointing out that the turnovers can’t happen. The competition continues.
The best thing, of course, is a quarterback who doesn’t make the unacceptably bad throw in the first place.
But the next-best thing is a quarterback who doesn’t crumble after a mistake.
That the Chiefs seem to be opening up the No. 2 job (and not just the No. 3 job) after drafting Aaron Murray in the fifth round is an interesting story for training camp. But Daniel maintains some advantages here. He is older, with a better reputation in the classroom.
He is more expensive, but the Chiefs would only save about $1.4 million by cutting him. That’s spare change in the NFL, a small price if Smith gets hurt and the Chiefs have to get through a game or two. It’s certainly not enough to be a dealmaker in an extension for Smith or Justin Houston.
The coaches are just one-fourth of the way through the process of picking a backup quarterback, and the most important parts are still to come. But one game in, Daniel thinks he showed his coaches that the backup job is his to lose.