When the news became official on Feb. 28, 2013 that oft-maligned San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for two draft picks, the fanbase known as the Chiefs Kingdom was split.
Many felt Smith never lived up to the No. 1 overall draft pick expectation during his eight seasons with the 49ers, and he was yet another retread quarterback being forced on a team that continually avoided drafting and developing their own signal-caller by any means necessary. When the 2013 season got underway, many of those fears weren't abated.
While the Chiefs were winning -- and they did win their first nine games -- Smith wasn't doing much to wow the Chiefs fans or bring any of his detractors over to his side. In fact, in five of the first of nine games in 2013, Smith didn't throw a touchdown. That's not exactly confidence-inspiring.
There was a lot of talk during the team's bye week concerning what kind of quarterback the Chiefs had on their hands. Though general manager John Dorsey didn't fall into the same trap as his predecessor Scott Pioli and give Smith a huge contract without a trial season, the Chiefs were still on the hook with the quarterback for two years (and two second-round draft picks). While he "managed" the offense in the weeks leading up to the team's break, he wasn't doing much to "play ball."
As the Chiefs came back to the field for a Week 10 match-up with the Denver Broncos, a shift in the paradigm of the team was evident. The defense, violent and stout at the beginning of the season, was lackluster, but the offense had come alive. At the center of that offense was Smith.
His passer rating heading into the break after the Chiefs' Week 9 victory against the Buffalo Bills was 81.1. During those first nine games, the Chiefs' quarterback threw for 1,919 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. His yards-per-game average only went to further the moniker of "Captain Checkdown."
Coming out of the bye week, Smith seemed like a different player. He was taking more shots down the field and throwing more touchdowns -- he threw 14 in the final six games versus the nine he had prior -- and he was laying everything on the line. Even though the defense was letting the team down, Smith was doing what needed to be done.
During the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament last month -- in which Smith played -- he indicated why the offense seemed to catch on the second half of the season.
It was our first year in the offense. We didn't turn the ball over, we were opportunistic in the red zone, but yes we didn't really have the entire playbook at hand, and that's to be expected in the first year with a lot of new faces. So as the year went on and we got more comfortable and coach Reid got more comfortable with us and his staff, he started to trust us with more and we showed that we could handle it. By the end, I was feeling really good about things."
While Smith is the Chiefs leader on the field, their leader on the sidelines -- head coach Andy Reid -- gave his own take on what he saw from Smith in 2013 from the annual NFL owner's meeting in Orlando, FL earlier this week.
“I think he just got more comfortable with the offense and the people around him. That takes a little bit of time, and I think after the bye week, after nine games, it started kind of taking off for him and the rest of the guys around him. I think that everybody had a better feel. We knew as coaches kind of what the guys did well.
As the team moved from the regular season into the postseason for the first time in three years, there was a sense of hope in Kansas City the team would find its first playoff win in 20 years. While the game will be remembered as a defensive collapse of epic proportions, many won't remember that Indianapolis Colts quarterback wasn't the best signal-caller on the field that day.
Smith completed 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Add to that the 57 yards on the ground -- showcasing his athleticism and ability to extend plays -- and it's clear that by the time the Chiefs found themselves in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, Smith had full command of Reid's offense.
The most important thing to note about that game, however, is Smith did it without the player many consider to be the best on the team: running back Jamaal Charles. Many said Smith and the Chiefs wouldn't be able to win or even perform at a high-level without the prolific running back. Alex Smith proved them wrong, at least on one side of that argument.
Smith is firmly entrenched in Kansas City as the Chiefs' leader. He accomplished more in his first year than his predecessor, Matt Cassel, was able to in four years. As the Chiefs move into the offseason, Smith will only continue to get more comfortable in the offense.
So what is there to look forward to?
During Smith's final six games of the 2013 season -- including the playoff loss -- his yards per game jumped to 295. If you stretch that average out for an entire season, it would be 4,725 yards. Additionally, Smith threw 18 touchdowns and three interceptions during that time frame. Extrapolate those numbers out and you're looking at 48 touchdowns and eight interceptions for the season.
Would you call that "breakout?"
Smith gave the best showing of career in 2013, in his first year of a new offense, with new teammates, a new head coach and a new team. If Reid and Dorsey can provide Smith with a couple more weapons to utilize on offense, he'll be changing a lot more minds and "Captain Checkdown" will become a thing of the past.