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The Alex Smith era isn’t over, but it’s dying a slow death

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Things this article is not about: an attempt to bash Alex Smith, a call to bench Alex Smith or blaming Alex Smith for all of the Chiefs’ problems.

I would like to have an honest conversation about Alex though. He’s played the best football of his career this season. He’s had some of his best moments this season.

We’re also seeing the slow death of the Alex Smith era.

The Chiefs were embarrassed by a bad New York Giants team on Sunday after losing two weeks ago in Dallas. Sandwiched between Smith’s two worst performances of the season was a bye week that the Smith and the Chiefs should have used to regain whatever led them to a week one win against the Patriots in Foxborough.

The victory over New England to kick off the season is probably the highlight of Smith’s career in Kansas City. He threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns. He was aggressive, dangerous and explosive. He outperformed the greatest quarterback of all time.

That game propelled him into the MVP discussion. Smith had his Heisman moment in Week 1. It’s likely to be his last. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Smith and the Chiefs lived on that game for the next four games of the season to a 5-0 record. Teams feared the offense early on. Teams honored throws outside the hash. They weren’t going to dare Smith to beat them. He took the defending champs down, and teams respected that. The Chiefs strung together five impressive wins on the back of that opening night performance.

The teams that have had success defensively against the Chiefs have treated Alex Smith like who he’s been for his tenure in Kansas City. They’ve been more worried about the run than what Smith can do to make them pay for trying to stop it and that’s showed in the offensive performance the last five games.

Slowly but surely, the shine of the New England game has worn off. It’s been a methodical return to reality. Sure there’s been some plenty of good moments from Smith since Week 1, but they’re more similar to the good moments we’ve seen the first four years of the Andy Reid era than the lighting in a bottle in Foxborough. Alex has broken 300 yards on two other occasions this season and threw three touchdowns in both games. Those games were closer to the peaks of Smith’s tenure than what we saw in New England.

The Patriots game created a new floor and ceiling for Smith and the Chiefs among the fan base. That game is an anomaly. I don’t think everyone thought was the new normal in Kansas City. How we calibrated our expectations didn’t align with that entirely though.

Remove that game, Alex Smith’s season pace over 16 games is 4,100 yards, 25 touchdowns and five interceptions. That still would be Smith’s best season. However, that kind of season probably doesn’t elevate this team to a Super Bowl. As more deficiencies continue to come to the surface on this football team, the more is required of Smith to make up for them. Alex Smith has for sure been better. He’s shown spurts of confidence and growth. He also hasn’t closed the gap as much between him and elite quarterbacks to give his team a legitimate chance to win the title.

It doesn’t feel like it today, but the Chiefs are still going to win 10 or 11 games and likely the AFC West. If they aren’t in that position late in the season, something has gone terribly wrong and we can start having the Patrick Mahomes conversation. But there’s too many “get-right” opportunities left this season to not win plenty more regular season games with Smith. He’s going to get a chance at another playoff start. For those calling to bench him, he still has the support of that locker room and he’s earned the opportunity for triumph or closure.

The Patriots and Steelers would be favored today as visitors in Arrowhead. The Chiefs are now in position to likely have to face both now on the road to reach a Super Bowl. The fast start and one game lead on the Patriots has been spoiled. The bullets the Chiefs used up in September probably wouldn’t have done the same damage in January anyway.

Smith is going to have another big game or two against a weaker opponent. He’s going to have a couple more moments that give you hope. But the reality already set in Sunday in New York. Alex Smith can have a career year, it be unlikely he can lead this team deep in the playoffs, and it be time to move on from him in 2018 all at the same time. Alex isn’t the problem, but he isn’t the solution. The reason the Chiefs traded up to acquire Mahomes is still in Smith’s DNA. Regardless of the growth and mentality change he forced on himself this season, the first game of the season was the start of a slow death to the Alex Smith era in Kansas City.