LAWRENCE, Kan. — Running backs are starting to to forget they’re still on earth.
Their latest victim was Alex Smith, who shuffled through his usual motions with all the notable details of his game exactly as laid out in the Chiefs’ playbook.
He threw the ball with confidence, cocked his arm back and tried to force it in there through a tiny opening. He found the receiver who was open with the kind of precision an aging quarterback like him can only dream of.
The only question left was when he’d finally throw it over the top.
The answer was never.
“Once he started to throw the football, it was more of the same. He was just having fun out there. His execution was good and we continued to make the plays. The guy has been through a lot, and when his back was against the wall, he got hot and started playing great football,” receiver Tyreek Hill said after Smith threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns in the Chiefs’ 32-30 victory over the Broncos on Thursday night.
“He is doing what’s best for the team and at the end of the day, that’s our job,” Hill added. “He is a big reason we are winning.”
Let’s put it this way: That man is doing a lot of things right in Kansas City these days.
Perhaps no other Chiefs player has benefited from the change at quarterback quite like Smith, who tossed two interceptions on his first three possessions. But he finally started finding his groove early in the second quarter, and while he still had some erratic moments, the moment that really boosted his confidence came on that fourth-quarter touchdown toss to Hill.
It came after Smith missed his initial target, out over the middle to Chris Conley. With his jaw still fixed in a gripping panic, Smith huddled with Conley and defensive tackle Chris Jones, who then heatedly threw his hands in the air in celebration.
It was the kind of explosive sequence that gave Smith new life, and he maintained it long enough to deliver a little gift on the next drive. He hit Hill for an 18-yard gain on third-and-7, and then easily connected with him for the touchdown that tied the game with 5:30 remaining.
“I just thought he played a great game,” coach Andy Reid said of Smith. “He made a lot of good plays and got us on the board.”
Yes, he did. His counterpart, Case Keenum, threw for 312 yards and a touchdown and set up Matt Prater’s 32-yard field goal as time expired to give the Broncos a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
But the Chiefs defense had one more answer, and the crowd at Arrowhead Stadium rose in a deafening uproar after Hill clinched the win with another touchdown reception.
“We never got that click, that momentum,” said Keenum, who was unable to lead the Broncos (7-5) back from a 20-0 deficit after halftime. “We always had a chance with their secondary, but I just felt like we weren’t able to stay balanced. We weren’t able to do some of the things we were able to do.”
By wining for the seventh time in eight games, the Chiefs (8-4) also moved back into first place in the AFC West. The Raiders lost at home to the Dolphins on Saturday, while the Chargers lost on the road to the Broncos on Sunday.
“We’re definitely putting ourselves in a position where we can win it,” Reid said. “But we have to come out each week and approach it like it’s another game.”
They’ll take on the Broncos on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. But after losing to them last month, now might be the time the Chiefs get it together.