KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith started his celebration before wide receiver Jeremy Maclin even had a chance to run under what would become a 41-yard touchdown pass late in the first half of last week’s game against the Buffalo Bills. Knowing that he had put the ball where he needed to and that Maclin had his defender beat, Smith raised his arms to signal the score and pumped his fist before sprinting to the end zone to celebrate with his teammates.
“We worked a lot on that," Smith said after the Chiefs completed their victory against the Bills. “I worked on that. It is kind of a unique play. There are so many little things that go into something like that and hitting that. We worked hard on it and finally getting it there and get it to pay off was nice.”
Smith and the Chiefs have had much to celebrate recently. The Chiefs will take a five-game winning streak into Sunday’s game against the Raiders in Oakland, California, in large part because of the play of their quarterback.
Smith had a QBR of 34.4, which was 30th among the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks, through the season’s first six weeks. The Chiefs won one of those six games.
He has a QBR of 85.5 since, and the Chiefs haven’t lost. Smith threw for more than 200 yards in the first half alone of a recent win versus the Chargers. He connected three times on deep passes with Maclin against the Bills.
Smith has thrown 283 straight passes without an interception, the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. That’s always been a part of his game. This will probably be his fifth consecutive season with more than 200 pass attempts and fewer than 10 interceptions. Only one quarterback managed such a streak in NFL history: Neil O'Donnell of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1991-95, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The big yards and big plays are something new for Smith. It's been a combination of things that have improved his play, he said.
“I think a little bit is all of us collectively growing together. Every year is different. The challenges are different. (The Chiefs have) kind of figured it out together. It’s really kind of a credit to the entire group," Smith said.
He is getting more time to throw than he did early in the season. He was often under heavy pressure when he attempted to throw, but his protection has stabilized since then.
The addition of Maclin gives Smith the big-play wide receiver he lacked his first two seasons with Kansas City. The two had some near-misses early in the season, but those plays went for big yards against the Bills.
“We’ll continue to build chemistry and continue to get better about that," Maclin said. “We have open communication. He’s free to come up to me. I’ll go up and talk to him. I think that’s the one thing that I really like about him. You can go up and talk to him about anything and he listens and he has suggestions and we go out there and work together.
“I think that’s been the difference between kind of this streak that we’re on, prior to kind of the losing streak we were on.”
Smith infamously failed to throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver last season. But his collection of wide receivers included an aging Dwayne Bowe and three players no longer in the NFL -- Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins and Junior Hemingway.
Smith has 12 touchdown passes this season. Twenty-three quarterbacks have more. Six of them have gone to wide receivers, including three to Maclin.
While those numbers aren’t great, they are progress to Smith and the Chiefs.
“We had some opportunities earlier in the year on some deep balls and just missed them," Smith said of throwing to Maclin. “He has done a great job of just continuing to win out there and stay hungry. I was finally able to connect with him (against the Bills) and give him an opportunity. That was a matchup we talked about all week. I felt good about the opportunity and I felt good with the matchup between him and any of those guys, to be honest.
“They are good on the back end, but it just felt like Jeremy is a type of player that is going to win those battles, especially with the ball in the air.”
Smith might never be a player who consistently gets the big play. He’s tended toward the conservative throw during his career, which is why he throws relatively few interceptions and touchdown passes. But if Smith can continue to find the balance he’s achieved lately, he and the Chiefs will have even more to celebrate.
“You are going out there and trying to make the best decision," Smith said. “I’m trying to go out there and execute the offense and trying to spread the ball around and take the best matchups and there are so many things that go into that: situation, play call and all of those things. You take that into account and you go and try and make the best decision. (The Bills) were very aggressive early on, and Jeremy made them pay.”