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Nick Foles was better than Alex Smith in the Chiefs’ 30-14 win over the Colts

Foles proved the Chiefs’ versatility and resilience can make them a contender in 2016.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City lost starting quarterback Alex Smith on Sunday due to a head injury. Twice.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Backup Nick Foles led the Chiefs’ offense better in Week 8 than Smith has in years.

Foles had not thrown a single regular season pass in 2016, but showed no signs of rust by carving up Indianapolis for more than 10 yards per pass attempt and a pair of touchdowns in a 30-14 win. The former Eagle wasn’t just capable in relief. He was the best quarterback Andy Reid has employed behind center in more than two years. His 135.2 passer rating was better than any Smith performance since Sept. 29, 2014.

The victory improved the Chiefs to 5-2 on the season and puts them smack dab in the hunt for the AFC West crown. With Denver and Oakland in the middle of roller coaster seasons, the presence of a dynamic passing threat like Foles could be a boon for a Kansas City team that hasn’t made back-to-back postseason appearances since 1995.

Foles is no stranger to success as a midseason replacement. He burst into the league’s consciousness with a stellar 2013 season with Philadelphia after taking over for Michael Vick. Foles threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions after taking over for the dynamic passer in Week 5. He rode that performance to a Pro Bowl selection and the reputation as one of the league’s most promising young passers.

He hasn’t been able to live up to those expectations in the intervening years. His TD:INT ratio slipped to 13:10 in 2014 before a broken collarbone cut his season short. Mark Sanchez’s ability to post similar numbers in relief took some of the shine off Foles’ rise, and a lackluster 2015 with St. Louis relegated him to backup status this fall.

However, Foles is just 27 years old and playing in an offensive system responsible for rejuvenating Smith’s career after an inconsistent start in San Francisco. If Kansas City’s veteran starter is hobbled for an extended period of time, it seems a safe bet Foles can keep his offense surging in the interim. If nothing else, a performance like Sunday’s should help increase the young player’s value should he enter free agency next spring.

Whether it’s Foles or Smith, the Chiefs will be in good hands as long as their defense can continue to shut down opponents like it did on Sunday. Kansas City held Indianapolis to just 277 yards. Its secondary continued to make a claim as one of the league’s best by limiting Andrew Luck to just 210 passing yards (6 yards per pass) and an interception. The defense has allowed just 12 points per game in its last four wins.

The combination of lockdown defense and efficient passing helped carry Kansas City to a key Week 8 victory and kept it within half a game of AFC West leader Oakland. The Chiefs showed off their resiliency and versatility on Sunday. Those traits could be the key when it comes to the team’s first back-to-back playoff appearances in over two decades.