When CBS attempts to sell this weekend’s matchup between the Patriots and Chiefs (Saturday, 4:35 p.m., CBS) one can bet the TV network will rely heavily on Patriots stars Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The quarterback of the hottest team in the NFL, however, won’t be seeing his name or face on any sort of marquee.
Ten years ago, the networks would have salivated over a playoff matchup between the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft and the already-established Brady. But Alex Smith had to go and have the oddest career in the history of pro football and ruin it for all of us.
Smith is regarded as the definition of “average” in the NFL today, but the way he’s orchestrating the Chiefs’ offense these days goes to show that a no-frills approach can still win in a league dominated by video-game offensive numbers.
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“Alex has done a great job for them,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “[He’s] very athletic, smart, makes really good decisions, and has made plays in the passing game, made plays in the running game, handled a lot of checks and decisions the line of scrimmage. They give him a lot of responsibility and he doesn’t make many mistakes.”
The Utah product threw just seven interceptions during a regular season in which he threw the ball 470 times. In other words, he’s nearly as good as Tom Brady when it comes to protecting the football (Brady threw seven picks in 624 attempts).
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger has a much higher approval rating than Smith when it comes to quarterbacking an NFL team. But Big Ben threw a whopping 16 interceptions in 469 attempts this year. Peyton Manning, the other quarterback in the AFC who will be under center this weekend, threw 17 interceptions in just 331 attempts in the regular season. Even sure-fire MVP Cam Newton threw more picks this year than Smith (10 in 495 attempts).
Before his eventually meaningless interception against the Texans last week, Smith had thrown 119 postseason passes without throwing a pick. It’s the longest streak to start a career in NFL history, according to ESPN.
The Patriots are very good at protecting the football and causing turnovers themselves, but their plus-7 turnover differential pales in comparison to the Chiefs’ plus-14 mark this season (second in the NFL).
As efficient as Smith has been, however, he is not prone to a bad outing. In the Chiefs’ regular season finale against Oakland (a 23-17 win) he threw back-to-back interceptions in the second quarter – including a pick-6. He also had a double-INT game in Week 2 against the Broncos (a 31-24 Chiefs loss). When you consider that Smith had 11 games this season in which he did not turn the ball over in the air, it’s remarkable that he had two of these outlier games.