Alex Smith outplayed Tom Brady. That is not a hot take that will embarrass someone in January. It’s a simple fact, albeit a stunning one that I’m not sure I still believe. And I just watched Smith and the Chiefs hand the Patriots their first-ever loss coming off a Super Bowl victory — a 42-27 thrashing — and their worst defeat in the Bill Belichick era.
For one night at least, Alex Smith is the best quarterback in the NFL. How did this happen?
First, some context
Beating the Patriots isn’t really a new thing for Smith. He’s now 2-0 against them in his career. In the regular season.
He is also the only quarterback with two touchdowns of 75-plus yards against Belichick’s Patriots. Smith is only the second quarterback with 300 yards and four touchdowns in a game against the Belichick Patriots. (Drew Brees is the other one.)
And here, from the Gold Jacket research department: Smith is just the fourth quarterback with a passer rating north of 140 against Belichick and the Patriots. Brees, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers have each done it once. Smith has now done it TWICE.
And he owes it all, for Thursday night anyway, to the fact that he learned to stop worrying and trust the deep ball.
Three other things also helped him with the deep ball success against the Patriots. The Chiefs ran the ball, and ran it well. Kareem Hunt had 17 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Smith set up the long throws well with a heavy dose of his usual short and intermediate tosses. Crossing route after crossing route kept the Patriots defense from spreading out too much.
And finally, it doesn’t hurt that the Chiefs have some speedy players, especially Tyreek Hill and his 75-yard touchdown complete with a peace sign for the defense.
Alex takes his shots
Short passes, throwing short of the sticks on third down ... that’s kind of the essence of Alex Smith. Or it was. In the preseason, there was chatter that Smith had to throw deep to keep his job safe from quarterback of the future Patrick Mahomes. And he certainly had to take his shots to beat the Patriots on Thursday.
Alex Smith had 178 yards on deep balls tonight. He only gained 521 in all of 2016— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 8, 2017
For his career, Smith’s averaged 6.8 yards per attempt. On Thursday against the Patriots, he averaged 10.5 yards per attempt.
On Kareem Hunt’s 78-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Smith even passed up a wide open Travis Kelce on a crossing route to chuck it down the field. He NEVER passes up a good crossing route, or at least he didn’t used to.
Smith threw the ball deep, i.e. more than 20 yards in the air, four times on Thursday night. He completed three of those passes.
In one game, he connected for a 75-yard and a 78-yard touchdown. Between 2006 and 2016, he had that same number, two, of touchdowns for 75 yards or more.
Compare Smith’s night to Tom Brady’s, who never could find any rhythm with his offense. Brady attempted 10 deep passes, but only completed two of them, according to Pro Football Focus, for a measly 81 yards.
Alex Smith handled all of this pretty much like you’d expect the ol’ game manager to do, downplaying his night after the game.
“There’s so much emotion, so much buildup and anticipation, that sometimes you forget that it’s just one of 16 [games], right?” Smith said to the press. “I think you have to be able to handle defeat as well as victory the right way, and I think each can deter you. You’ve got to be able to handle it the right way. You’ve got to be able to be resilient.”
Is this the new norm for Smith? Is dink and dunk just an artifact of his career before he turned 33? Maybe! But for now, with just one game out of an entire season to go, he is the king of the deep ball passers.