Bart Scott has never been afraid to speak his mind — no one will be forgetting his 2011 “Can’t Wait” rant anytime soon — and he doesn’t mince words, either. It’s just not the man’s way.
So now that Scott, an 11-year NFL veteran at inside linebacker, has transitioned to his new gig as a studio panelist for CBS, it just makes it easier to believe him when he says Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is good enough to win a Super Bowl.
“I’ll tell you what — if I would have had Alex Smith, I would have won two Super Bowls, possibly three,” Scott said at this week’s Super Bowl festivities. “I mean, I went to the AFC Championship (Game) with Mark Sanchez (twice). I’m just being honest.”
Scott, a longtime Baltimore Raven and New York Jet, obviously harbors some left-over disappointment from the Jets’ 2010 and 2011 AFC Championship Game losses.
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However, the larger point remains: During a year in which the Chiefs rallied from a 1-5 start to win 11 straight games, it’s obvious that Smith — who completed 65.3 percent of his passes for a career-high 3,486 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions — also managed to shake his “game manager” label some by shouldering the load for an offense during the streak without star back Jamaal Charles.
“He’s becoming a very, very astute football player,” Scott said. “He knows where to go with the ball. And sometimes he decides to take over the game with his legs. I think it’s unfortunate he lost Jamaal Charles, but I think it allowed him to grow as a player.”
Scott’s opinion was buoyed by three men who know how to play the position, as former NFL quarterbacks Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason and Trent Green all agreed that the Chiefs could win a Super Bowl with Smith.
“Yeah, yeah, he definitely is,” said Green, a Super Bowl champion who spent six years with the Chiefs. “I think when you look at what the team is built around, obviously it’s a great defense, it’s an opportunistic defense. The offense, from a running game standpoint, does a good job, and then this year, I think we saw more evolution in the passing game.”
Specifically, Green said, with Smith’s increased willingness to throw the deep ball, which improved as the season went on. Green said the offseason arrival of a bona fide No. 1 receiver in Jeremy Maclin and the ascension of Travis Kelce as one of the league’s best tight ends helped Smith’s cause.
Simms agreed, adding that Chiefs coach Andy Reid did a nice job of melding the offense around Smith’s talents.
“He’s built the team around Alex Smith just as well as Ron Rivera and Mike Shula have built the Carolina Panthers around Cam Newton,” Simms said, before clasping his hands together and looking up to the sky. “When Alex Smith sees the offense, he must just go ‘Thank you, Lord.’ Because it fits him, it’s what he should be doing.”
Smith, of course, doesn’t have Newton’s howitzer arm, which is often enough to make up for Newton’s sometimes-sloppy mechanics. But he does have brains, accuracy and escapability — he rushed for a career-high 498 yards on 84 attempts — and Simms said that combination could be good enough to win it all.
“Listen, you’ve got to do what you’re good at,” Simms said. “He’s accurate and he can get the football out of his hand, so they do have a short passing game, but they counteract it with a lot of motion, a lot of misdirection and a guy that can really run, so it makes up for all that.”
Esiason agreed, and named another element that will likely play a role in whether Smith can guide the Chiefs to a Super Bowl one day.
“This is your guy, you’ve invested in him, he’s gotten you to the playoffs,” Esiason said. “Now, they’ve got to get home-field advantage. Because I’m telling you right now, it’s going to be really difficult for anybody to go into Kansas City and beat the Chiefs in the playoffs (with) the way they are constructed, with that noise.”
But even if the Chiefs were to earn home-field advantage in the near future, Smith would still need to make some plays to propel his team to the big game, as no one makes the Super Bowl without some clutch play from the quarterback position.
The good news for the Chiefs is that Scott — whose Jets lost to the San Francisco 49ers 34-0 in 2012, the only time he faced Smith in his career — sees a player who could potentially come up big in crucial spots, as opposed to the overly cautious player he saw before this year.
“His willingness to push the ball downfield has improved,” Scott said. “When quarterbacks struggle early in their career, sometimes they’re scarred. And for a long time, he looked like a guy that was scarred. He just didn’t want to make any mistakes, he didn’t want to be the reason to lose the game.”
And this was something he could tell as a defender on the field?
“I mean, of course,” Scott said. “Sometimes when you’ve been scarred … you saw that a lot with David Carr, a guy who got beat up and pummeled early in his career. He didn’t trust himself, he didn’t trust the process, he didn’t trust the pocket. So he was antsy and he got out of the pocket.”
Scott added that Smith could still stand to trust himself more and take more risks, because if a defense doesn’t have to worry about the deep ball, it makes an offense significantly easier to defend.
“Because you can sit at the sticks,” Scott said. “And what happens is, even if you give up a big play, they still have to continue to work the ball down the field, and it’s going to take an eight-to-10 play drive, which is a lot harder (to do), right?”
Of course, Smith will turn 32 years old in May, and is now a 12-year veteran, to boot, so it’s unlikely he’ll ever change his stripes too much.
The good news is that what Smith has already proven himself to be — a winner who is 30-16 as a Chief over the last three years — is already darn good, at least in the eyes of men who have played the position.
“Alex Smith is grown — he’s done growing,” Esiason said. “He is now a bona fide NFL quarterback — he knows exactly what he is. The good news about Alex (is he commits) no turnovers and he makes third-down (conversions) by himself.”
The only question that remains is whether he will prove Scott, Simms, Esiason and Green right about his Super Bowl ceiling.
“Now he’s got to get his team to the next level,” Esiason said.