There really isn’t a low that Alex Smith hasn’t experienced during his long odyssey from No. 1 overall pick to bust to franchise savior all over again.
During the past nine years, Smith has been booed, benched and traded. He’s lost a ton of games and has experienced his share of gut-wrenching moments.
But when asked recently to compare the Chiefs’ devastating 45-44 playoff loss to Indianapolis on Saturday to anything he’s experienced in his career … well, he couldn’t even do it.
“No, they’re all so different,” Smith said. “Those opportunities, you don’t know when they’ll come, how often they’re going to be there and when your next one’s going to be. Certainly last night hurt.”
He wasn’t done.
“To be up like we were, you know, feeling very good about things, and to have it end up the way it did … (it’s) certainly a tough pill to swallow,” Smith said. “But any loss would be. If it happened every other way imaginable, a loss is a loss. They all hurt.”
Especially, one would think, when he played so well. Despite losing star running back Jamaal Charles only six plays in due to a concussion, Smith proceeded to play one of his best games of the year, completing 30 of 46 passes (65.2 percent) for 378 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 57 yards, often eluding the pass rush with his legs. His total QBR of 81.9 was the second-highest he posted all season, second only to his sterling five-touchdown performance against the Raiders.
But unlike that game, he didn’t have Charles — who scored five touchdowns against Oakland — doing the heavy lifting. Against the Colts, Smith unleashed the deep ball, showed terrific poise and led his team to the third-most points they’ve scored all season.
Yet, it still wasn’t enough.
“You know, it doesn’t really matter,” Smith said, when asked about his performance. “In the end, especially as quarterbacks, it comes down to winning and losing, especially when you get into the postseason. You’ve just got to find a way to win.”
Smith also admitted that the Chiefs’ final drive will stick with him for a while. The Chiefs got the ball back on their own 20-yard line trailing 45-44 with four minutes, 21 seconds left. After throwing two straight darts to Dwayne Bowe for 38 total yards, the Chiefs ran the ball for three yards before Smith threw the ball away under pressure and was whistled for intentional grounding.
That put the Chiefs in a hole on third-and-17, though Bowe nearly converted the fourth down when he got single coverage on the outside and caught a pass down the sideline, yet failed to get both feet inbounds.
“They’re all tough, certainly that one, but you can point out for me a handful of plays that yeah, you do this differently, you do that different,” Smith said. “It would’ve changed the game, and that’s the way it is.
“You never know which play can be the difference. That’s why you’re doing everything possible each and every play to do it right, to make the play, because you don’t know which one is going to be the difference maker. There were several of those (Saturday).”
As of Sunday, Smith said he had not watched the play again. Perhaps the pain of the loss was too fresh.
“I don’t know what word I’d put on it,” Smith said of the loss. “It’s over. I know that. It’s pretty final. That’s the way the playoffs go. All of a sudden 2013 is done.”
And with it, arguably the best season of his career. Smith, who was acquired from the 49ers this offseason for two second-round picks, bounced back in a big way after losing his job to Colin Kaepernick last season, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns, both of which are career highs. He did this while protecting the football, tossing only seven interceptions.
His big season could pay off for Smith in the near future. The Chiefs have him under contract for one more season, but management has to decide whether to extend him this offseason, lest they head into the 2014 season with a starting quarterback playing without the security of the long-term deal, an unnecessary distraction for a team whose stated goal is to win the Super Bowl.
“I certainly think we have the pieces here, no doubt in my mind that we have what it takes (to win a Super Bowl),” Smith said. “I think the guys will tell you even (Saturday), more so than ever, we feel like that we’re capable of not only just getting to the playoffs but going deep into them and making runs. We have that kind of talent here. We have the group together to do that.”
But in the aftermath of the Chiefs’ latest loss, Smith was largely thinking about the one that got away, one that will (unfairly, perhaps) mar folks’ memories of a season in which the Chiefs returned to relevance after the unmitigated disasters of years past.
“Any time you can go from two wins to making the playoffs, you have something to feel good about there, the turnaround we had,” Smith said. “Still though, when you get these opportunities, you don’t know how often they come or when the next one is going to be.
“Unfortunately for us, we just did not get it done (Saturday).”