KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Two distinctly different versions of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith have emerged over the years.
Regular-Season Alex and Playoff Alex.
The regular-season version may be the most boring player you will ever meet. He rarely says anything inflammatory.
He is exceedingly polite. His answers to even the most blasé of questions during his weekly availability are mind-numbingly rote, a talent he’s honed over 11 seasons as a pro.
His play is a reflection of that, too. Smith is the consummate game-manager, content to dink and dunk and avoid major mistakes, and let his opportunistic defense carry Kansas City to victories.
The playoff version of Smith is the antithesis. He is brash and confident and carries a gunslinger’s swagger, and his numbers in five games put him among the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
His passer rating of 99.1 trails only Bart Starr, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
“I would agree,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “he’s had some good games in the playoffs. He’s a competitive guy. He loves the situation.
“But I’d tell you he’s done a pretty good job this year, too. I have a lot of respect for the quality of his play this year.”
Rather than using an often-arbitrary statistic such as quarterback rating to explain how good Smith has been in the playoffs, though, try comparing his numbers in the regular season to the postseason.
He’s averaged 197.5 yards passing while throwing 157 touchdown passes and 91 interceptions in the regular season.
Those numbers alone would be enough to drive him to the bench in many cities, and in fact did just that when Colin Kaepernick earned the starting job over him in San Francisco.
But when the pressure of the playoffs is on, Smith has averaged 261.8 yards passing with 11 touchdown throws and one interception.
And just about every other statistic takes a jump, from yards-per-attempt to more obscure metrics, driving home the notion that Smith shines brightest when the lights are brightest.
“I think, honestly, it’s a reflection of the people around me,” said Smith, who will try to continue that postseason history when the Steelers visit Arrowhead Stadium in the divisional round Sunday.
“When the guys are playing well around you, you look good,” he continued. “Good game plans, executing well, all that stuff and certainly, you’re a reflection of that.”
OK, so the brash and confident version of Playoff Alex may only extend to the field.
He’s still Regular-Season Alex in interview settings.
“No quarterback goes out there and plays well on his own,” he insisted. “Certainly you get a lot of the attention and credit, but obviously, you’re not doing that on your own.”
Smith is 2-3 in his five playoff games, leading the 49ers to the doorstep of the Super Bowl during his resurgent 2011 season.
He also helped the Chiefs snap an eight-game postseason losing streak that stretched to the 1993 season with a win in Houston in last year’s wild-card round, before losing to New England in the divisional round the following week.
Smith was a near-flawless 17 of 22 for 190 yards with a touchdown in that game against the Texans, and threw for 246 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.
His other playoff game with Kansas City may have been the finest performance of his career – except for the outcome.
In what turned into a memorable shootout in Indianapolis, the quarterback whose arm has always been questioned threw for 378 yards and four TDs without a pick in a 45-44 defeat.
Pressed for why things seem to change in the playoffs, Smith replied: “It gets picked up. Everything gets stepped up a notch. The intensity increases, the margin of error – all that stuff.
“I think really, though, going back to everybody feeling that – coaches, players, the whole unit – everybody kind of feels that and kind of picks up their game even just the smallest amount.”