With the Chiefs’ landmark acquisition of receiver Jeremy Maclin in the offseason, they were instantly infused not just with another dimension of offense, but also a certain grit and energy that had been in short supply among his peers.
Ask quarterback Alex Smith about Maclin’s broader game, for instance, and he’ll point to his downfield blocking and inclination simply to hit opponents when the opportunity presents itself.
“I think it’s rubbed off on all those guys,” Smith said.
That fire is a particularly distinguishing commodity since it defines him every … single … day, from the cauldron of camp to the frigid rain and sleet on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
That’s because to Maclin it’s “all about being reliable.”
“It’s not about stats, it’s not about how many catches, it’s not about yards,” Maclin said. “It’s about being there when the team needs you.”
Sometimes that all melds together in the most obvious form: the dominant one Maclin assumed in the Chiefs’ 30-22 victory over Buffalo to improve to 6-5.
In a crucial stride toward a playoff berth that makes the Chiefs’ 1-5 start look more and more like an asterisk than the season signature, in a game the Chiefs trailed 10-0 and mustered all of 29 yards in the first quarter, Maclin revitalized them with his best performance in their uniform and third-most prolific of his career.
His 160 yards and a touchdown on nine catches cemented over what had been the void in their game, the most tangible of reasons they signed him to make over a receiving group that didn’t catch a touchdown pass in 2014.
A year later, that still seems preposterous.
A year later, that’s also long behind … even if the Chiefs could stand more upgrading.
Without Maclin, who leads the Chiefs with 57 catches for 772 yards, the Chiefs simply wouldn’t have won Sunday to firm up their trajectory toward a wild-card berth.
Instead, they would have tumbled back toward the pack rather than winning their fifth straight game — the third-longest active streak in the NFL behind 11-0 Carolina and 10-0 New England (entering its game at Denver on Sunday night).
Nothing they did in the offseason was more important than acquiring Maclin.
For that matter, on a day like Sunday you could see a case that no personnel move has been more essential in the three-year tenure of general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid as they contour personnel to this scheme and program.
Of all the meaningful, pivotal moments Maclin produced on Sunday, none was more substantial — and symbolically telling — than his 41-yard touchdown reception from Smith with 1 minute 48 seconds left in the first half.
When the Chiefs took over at their 20 with 2:27 left in the half trailing 16-7, the most likely outcome considering the conservative blueprint of coach Andy Reid and Smith was to mosey towards a field-goal attempt.
But the drive got instant traction on a 14-yard pass from Smith to Maclin.
Then it got a turbo-charge with a 25-yard pass-interference penalty allegedly perpetrated on the Chiefs’ Jason Avant by Buffalo’s Nickell Robey – who labeled it “a bad call.”
Be that as it may, and a revealing replay wasn’t easy to find, what came next was what Chiefs followers have been clamoring to see.
And what the Chiefs have been striving to do since literally their first offensive play of the exhibition season.
Even when Smith misfired long for Maclin in the preseason opener at Phoenix, he said then, “It was fun. It kind of made a statement we’ll come out shooting.”
Connecting, of course, has been a different matter, especially given Reid and Smith’s prioritization of minimizing risk.
That philosophy has reaped rewards such as 283 passes in a row without an interception, the fourth-longest such streak in NFL history.
But its entwined downside is an at-times exasperating reluctance to shrug caution aside.
As it happens, there is a favorable compromise to be had:
Smith’s feathered lob to Maclin down the right sideline past Ronald Darby exploited a matchup the Chiefs had liked going into the game because of Maclin’s explosive speed.
“You know, there’s a saying: ‘If I’m even, I’m leaving,’ ” said Maclin, who caught the ball in stride near the 5.
About no sooner had Smith let go of the ball, then even he seemed to start celebrating, ultimately with some uncharacteristic animation as his mind flashed to “all the little things that go into something like that.”
“Pretty jacked up there,” said Smith, who initially said he feels like he “always celebrates pretty big” before qualifying it: “At least I feel it on the inside.”
From the outside looking in, you could feel a breakthrough here between Maclin and Smith, who sure looks like a better quarterback the longer he plays with Maclin and the more they get to know each other.
“I think it’s a progression,” Smith said, “and it just never stops.”
It sure didn’t on Sunday, when Maclin also had a sprawling 32-yard catch that set up the Chiefs’ go-ahead TD in the third quarter and a diving 37-yarder that set up their first score to get them out of the 10-0 deficit.
Never mind that it appeared Maclin trapped that one.
It’s forever a catch because Buffalo failed to challenge it.
“It flipped the game,” said Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, who said from his vantage point he thought Maclin caught it.
As for Maclin?
Never a doubt he caught it.
“Yeah,” he said, without so much as a wry smile. “Yeah. Yeah.”
That defiant reaction in itself spoke to the competitiveness of Maclin, whose day was made whole by more little things:
Two third-down catches for first downs on the vital 11-play, 6:31 fourth-quarter drive that ended with a Cairo Santos field goal that essentially put it out of reach.
Because it was all about being able to be counted on when he was needed most.
Which might mean a lot of little things … but sure includes the spectacular, too.