Vahe Gregorian

Alex Smith must rise above the Chiefs’ malaise, not succumb to it

Flanked by defenders Justin Houston, Dontari Poe and Vance Walker, Alex Smith (right) showed his frustration after the Chiefs’ loss to Arizona on Sunday.
Flanked by defenders Justin Houston, Dontari Poe and Vance Walker, Alex Smith (right) showed his frustration after the Chiefs’ loss to Arizona on Sunday. The Kansas City Star

In a more fair world, or at least a more forgiving one, maybe an NFL referee doesn’t gobble up the flop of a defender that sells a suspect offensive pass-interference call.

In our little la-la land, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith’s apparent 19-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano stands up against what appeared to be a trumped-up charge on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Chiefs would take a 21-9 lead in the third quarter. More likely than not, they would win the game and regain some traction in their playoff pursuit.

Then, afterward, coach Andy Reid isn’t speaking with an eerie calmness trying to contain himself, the fury of a patient man almost bubbling over before he implores reporters to move on to another topic.

Afterward, Smith isn’t left in the polarizing stance he automatically assumes with many fans every time the Chiefs lose … and even sometimes when they don’t.

But, no …

Instead, this was a reality check in more ways than one both for the Chiefs, whose wasteful 17-14 loss was their playoff-threatening third straight defeat, and Smith.

Instead, the play after the touchdown was called back, Smith fluttered a ghastly, costly interception to linebacker Alex Okafor.

And everything changed.

Okafor returned it 26 yards to pave the way to what became just Arizona’s second offensive touchdown in three games.

Ultimately, after the Cardinals converted a two-point conversion, the exasperating sequence proved a 15-point swing.

No one knew the way the game pivoted on that sequence better than Smith.

If he didn’t quite wince when the topic was broached, he let out a sound somewhere between a groan and a sigh.

“I mean,” he said, “quite a swing of two plays.”

Quite a swing, too, in an ongoing referendum about Smith, who certainly is not Peyton Manning but, in fact, is a snug, sound fit for this offense, a winner and a leader.

Trouble is, he has some grimace-inducing moments that challenge that stature.

The interception was a glaring one Sunday, shrouding a first half in which he’d completed 12 of 13 passes (with the lone incompletion a drop by Travis Kelce) and run for 21 yards on third and 14 to help navigate the Chiefs to a 14-6 halftime lead.

Maybe this miscue was particularly exasperating because it came on a third and 20 with the Chiefs still in field-goal range.

“Really wasn’t even trying to throw it down the field necessarily. Felt like they were playing soft and was trying to throw underneath to Albert (Wilson),” Smith lamented, adding that he thought Okafor was “kind of looping around, kind of fell into it, kind of got lucky as I was throwing it.

“Didn’t see him ’til the last second.”

It was an especially disheartening play for and from a quarterback whose forte is the unspectacular controlled short passing game (and who completed his season-long pass of 41 yards to Jason Avant on Sunday).

But there’s no call to make Smith the scapegoat here.

There were a heap of reasons the Chiefs botched this highly winnable game, including a spree of missed potential interceptions, allowing a third-and-18 pass to become Arizona’s only touchdown, Jamaal Charles touching the ball just 12 times (10 rushes) and the plenty-nimble Smith being sacked five times because of heavy pressure.

The call on Fasano didn’t help, and neither did the debatable lost fumble by Kelce after an apparent 19-yard reception late in the fourth quarter at the Arizona 16.

(Proposed: The NFL and television get together to make it mandatory that viewers see the specific replay angle that overturns a call.).

“Pretty surprised and shocked,” Smith said. “I felt like (officials) had whistled it, which (is) tough once they whistle it: You’re not trying to recover it or anything.”

Just the same, Reid was right when he said, “We had opportunities here to take care of business.”

And with a team that has such a thin margin for error week-to-week and, now, for a postseason berth, there are certain things it has to count on every week to have a winning formula.

One of those is Smith being the best version of himself, meaning in part first do no harm.

That’s reinforced by the differences in at least the most simplistic of his statistics in games the Chiefs win or lose.

In the Chiefs’ seven victories, Smith has completed 132 of 184 passes (71.7 percent) with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

In the six Chiefs losses, Smith has completed 122 of 205 (59.5 percent) with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

In a season that suddenly has an 8-8 sort of tint to it, one fewer interception may well have meant one more win.

With a little more luck, it never would have come to that.

But right now, the Chiefs are neither lucky nor good, and Smith has to rise above that instead of succumbing to it.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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