If the game Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium was irrelevant to the Chiefs’ perch in the playoffs, it was “priceless,” coach Andy Reid said, in terms of resting regulars and testing reserves against an intensely motivated opponent in a raucous atmosphere.
And perhaps the most valuable element of that was the validation of the $10 million price tag for backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who had thrown nine passes in his first four NFL seasons.
As confident as the Chiefs were about giving Daniel a three-year contract, as much as others seem to believe in him and as well as he’s played in exhibition games, there was no way to know how that would all translate in this type of crucible until he actually was immersed in it.
And that was this: 21 completions in 30 attempts for 200 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions, seven rushes for 59 yards and a virtuoso orchestration of a drive at the end of regulation that set up a would-be game-winning 41-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Succop who missed wide right in the 27-24 overtime loss.
It hardly was perfect, of course. Daniel had a few plays he’ll crave back, and he knows he got away with a “bad idea” on his first pass of the game, which probably should have been intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
But any doubts he was a capable NFL backup were dispelled with his first NFL regular-season start and first in a game that counted since five years ago to the day in Mizzou’s Alamo Bowl win over Northwestern.
“His (starting debut) sure went a lot better than mine It’s something you will never forget,” starter Alex Smith said, smiling as he recalled his own in 2005, a 28-3 loss to Indianapolis in which he completed nine of 23 passes for 74 yards.
He added: “As much as you think you prepare and you think you are ready, when you finally get out there it’s tough to simulate that.”
Even so, Daniel said his practice and training habits made him anything but jittery about starting the game, which he came to know he would on Saturday and nonetheless led to “about as good” a night of sleep as he’d enjoyed all season.
“My preparation didn’t change at all: Never does: I have a great routine that I have going,” he said, without elaborating during a brief post-game news conference.
With a chuckle, he added that the results Sunday “showed that when I actually play, it works a little bit.”
Part of that preparation no doubt includes the psychological aspect of being ready to move on to the next play regardless of the success of the last one.
That proved pivotal on the first drive, when linebacker Donald Butler read Daniel’s pass but whiffed.
On the next play, Daniel had the resilience and touch to connect with A.J. Jenkins for 48-yard pass down the right sideline to set up Knile Davis’ 17-yard touchdown run and establish the tempo for a game the Chiefs led 24-14 into the fourth quarter.
“He battled and made a lot of really good plays,” counterpart Philip Rivers said, adding, “I know he plays during the preseason, but I don’t know how many regular-season plays he’s had, so I thought he did a heck of a job.”
And never more than with the game on the line after the Chargers had tied it 24-24 with 3 minutes 21 seconds left.
After the touchback, Daniel on successive plays with some play-action hit Dexter McCluster for 14 yards, Sean McGrath for 11 and Junior Hemingway for 24 to establish the Chiefs at the San Diego 31 at the 2-minute warning.
“I think we saved those last three plays; I was just waiting for the call(s),” said Daniel, who had been drooling to run them after seeing how they’d worked in practice.
The Chiefs then ran six straight times to drain the clock and set up Succop’s attempt, which figured to end the game.
With a 28-yard pass to McCluster enabled by a nice lookoff, Daniel maneuvered the Chiefs into San Diego territory again in overtime before the drive fizzled on three straight incompletions under pressure after Davis lost 5 yards on first down.
“Listen,” Reid said, “I thought Chase handled things very well.”
Not that there was ever any doubt was there?
“It was good personally, secretly, to play a little bit,” Daniel said, smiling and adding that “down the road a non-healthy team is going to win the Super Bowl, and you don’t know when your number’s going to be called.”