Tyreek Hill flashes the peace sign. Here's how the key moment was photographed
The New England Patriots aren’t just the presumptive Super Bowl favorites.
USA Today on Thursday speculated that the defending Super Bowl champions were an intriguing prospect to go undefeated this season.
Along the same lines, a Sports Illustrated cover story last week entertained the question of the Patriots as “an unstoppable dynasty.”
So, yes, because of those perceptions and plenty of other reasons, the Chiefs’ 42-27 victory on Thursday at Gillette Stadium was improbable and monumental and surely one of the highlights of quarterback Alex Smith’s career considering his four-touchdown, 368-yard performance.
Thrilled as he might have been, though, the first point he made afterward was about keeping this in perspective.
So much so that if you didn’t know the result of the game you’d find it hard to know whether he was commenting about a loss or a victory.
“There’s so much emotion, so much buildup and anticipation, that sometimes you forget that it’s just one of 16 (games), right?” said Smith, who completed 28 of 35 passes. “I think you have to be able to handle defeat as well as victory the right way, and I think each can deter you.”
He added, “You’ve got to be able to handle it the right way. You’ve got to be able to be resilient.”
If that sounds bland, it’s nevertheless absolutely true.
It’s also just what the Chiefs need a dose of to make this mean more.
Most of all, it says a lot about why Smith could do what he did amid all the pomp and circumstance of ceremonies to honor last season’s championship and a wobbly start that threatened to sabotage any chance the Chiefs would have before they went on to score more points than any team ever had against a Bill Belichick-coached New England team.
(The second-most, incidentally, was the 41 the Chiefs scored against them in 2014).
“He doesn’t flinch at much,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Smith. “There’s just nothing that really rattles him. …
“He just kind of calms the storm.”
Starting with the looming firestorm waiting for his first false step considering the hysteria over rookie Patrick Mahomes, the big-armed heir apparent out of Texas Tech who the Chiefs traded up to pick No. 10 overall in the draft.
Heck, those who want to see Mahomes now probably were calling for him to enter the game as soon as rookie Kareem Hunt fumbled his first career carry with the Chiefs already down 7-0.
Even with Smith having done nothing wrong yet, murmurs no doubt intensified when it appeared the Patriots had taken a 13-0 lead only for Rob Gronkowski’s apparent touchdown reception to be correctly ruled incomplete after a video review.
And the clamor was all over social media when Smith got tripped up by a phantom of the Gillette Stadium turf for a sack.
But Smith spent most of the game showing why the idea of Mahomes replacing him this season is preposterous.
Smith’s poise, command of the offense and an extra accent on going downfield resulted in a terrific 92-yard drive for a touchdown late in the first half and in his becoming the first Chiefs quarterback since Len Dawson in 1968 to throw two passes of more than 75 yards in the same game.
One of those was to Tyreek Hill, lofted some 50 yards in the air for a 75-yard touchdown after Hill got behind the Patriots defense to give the Chiefs a 21-17 lead in the third quarter.
The other went 78 yards to Hunt, whose 246 total yards set a record for most yards from scrimmage by a player in his first NFL game.
On that one, Smith led a breaking Hunt perfectly into his stride in the middle of the field.
“There’s a lot of moving parts on that play,” Smith said, smiling. “... I was happy he saw the same thing I did as I brought him into the middle of the field, because you just don’t know how that’s going to shake out with the motion at the snap."
All of which reaffirms why Smith is a fixture, especially with so many young players around him on the offense.
Or as Smith put it, “I’m definitely the old guy, for sure.”
Mahomes figures to have a great future ahead, and you can make a case his presence has pushed Smith.
But this is Smith’s team — or at least his offense.
In more ways than you might realize.
“One of the things we did when Alex came here was we went back and kind of looked at some of the stuff he had done in college and was familiar with,” Reid said, referring to what would become part of the base offense.
And after just the second four-touchdown-plus performance of his career (the other was for five against Oakland in 2013), after guiding the Chiefs to a 21-0 fourth quarter against a team that had won the last 105 home games it had led after three quarters, Smith is 44-21 as a starter for the Chiefs.
He’s also 2-0 in regular-season games against future Pro Football Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who was 16 of 36 for 267 yards on Thursday.
Afterward, Smith was offered a chance to crow about this game and about the longtime perception of him as a mere game manager and what it might say that he did this with all the drama over Mahomes in the offseason.
Instead, Smith just smiled.
“You know, if you’d asked me that seven or eight years ago, you’d probably get what you’re looking for there,” he said. “I really don’t care (about what people say).”
Because he knows remembering this is just one of 16 games is the key to ultimately having it mean more.
“You’ve got to be able to … stay shortsighted and have a sense of urgency about your business,” he said.
Words to live by for the Chiefs if they’re going to make the most of the statement suggested by the win on Thursday.