KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For those unfamiliar with Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, a quick introduction: muscle-bound, 6-feet-5 inches tall, 278 pounds, regularly described by teammates as an athletic freak, probable inhabitant of quarterback nightmares.
Most people – not to mention individuals with lucrative careers that hinge on their physical abilities – would not challenge this man.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith did so in Week 8.
With less than a minute remaining before halftime and the Chiefs leading 24-3 and starting a drive from their 21-yard line, Smith slid and was hit by Ansah.
As the players got to their feet, Smith took Ansah to task, and the two scuffled before other players intervened. Chiefs offensive lineman Jeff Allen was eventually whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct, but nothing further came of the encounter.
The moment mattered little to the outcome of the game, which Kansas City won 45-10.
Around the locker room, however, it made an impression, just as it did when Smith showed some emotion in 2014 against the Buffalo Bills when he scored the winning touchdown of that extremely physical game on an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“When you got your quarterback with an attitude, that’s a great thing to see,” running back Charcandrick West told ChiefsDigest.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal. “To see him overly excited – he’s cool at all times. To see him with that rage – I mean, I can’t say that’s the first time. Last year, that Buffalo game, he scored that touchdown, he got excited.
“We don’t see a lot of excitement out of Alex,” West added. “He’s just a great guy, a great leader. He never panics. He just stays confident at all times. That’s great to have in a quarterback.”
West was not the only one who noted Smith’s anger with approval.
Offensive line coach Andy Heck said the offensive linemen, a unit doing the dirty work in the trenches every game, also enjoyed seeing Smith display some of the same nastiness the linemen consider integral to their identity.
“Our job as offensive linemen, we always talk about, ‘Protect the quarterback,’ ‘Protect the football,’ ‘Protect our runners,’ and at the same time make your presence felt,” Heck said. “The defense has got to feel you every single play, and so, hey, when one of our guys is down there, if it gets a little bit chippy within the rules of the game, we want to make sure we’re the aggressor in every situation.”
Heck, who underscored his endorsement of Smith’s fire with a small smile, said seeing the quarterback get amped up unquestionably inspired the offensive line and agreed such moments boost a team.
“It provides great energy,” Heck said. “Whether it’s a guy finishing a double-team really well and you put a guy on a back, or, hey, there’s a little bit of chippiness going on, it gets everybody’s ire up, and that’s good as long as you’re able to control that.”
Smith’s righteous indignation evidently did not dissipate throughout the remainder of the game. In the Week 8 postgame media availability session, he was still steamed.
“I felt like what did happen wasn’t right, it wasn’t called for,” Smith told reporters in London. “It shouldn’t be in the game, and I got upset about it. It’s unlike me, but it’s something that got me going a little bit. I just don’t feel like there’s any place for it.”
The quarterback backed up his feistiness with solid play throughout the game.
After halftime, Smith made one of his most memorable throws of the day. During the first drive of the second half, with linebacker Stephen Tulloch bearing down on him, Smith delivered an 18-yard strike to tight end Travis Kelce that gave the Chiefs a first down on the Detroit two-yard line. Tulloch felled Smith with a punishing hit as he threw the ball, but Smith was undeterred.
The Chiefs went on to score a touchdown on that drive, stretching their lead to 31-3 and making it clear they would not be letting off the gas despite their advantage.
Smith completed 18 of 26 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. His completion rate of 69.2 percent was his best this season, and his 108.7 passer rating was his best since Week 1 against the Houston Texans.
Adding to his contribution in the passing game, Smith also rushed for a season-high 78 yards and a touchdown on five carries, one of went he took a career-high 49 yards.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid hardly expects that sort of rushing output from Smith, of course. The game against Detroit was unique.
“Opportunities presented themselves,” Reid said during his Monday media session. “The offensive line did a nice job of getting bodies on bodies. A couple of those cases, it wasn’t that he had to run, [that] it was because of pressure that he had to run – that wasn’t the case. It was the secondary dropping back, the level-two players, the linebackers, dropping back into coverage that opened up those avenues.”
Coaches and executives invariably worry when quarterbacks run, but Smith said he has learned throughout his career to be discerning about how he does so.
“You just get smarter at it,” Smith told reporters in London. “I feel like I’ve gotten smarter knowing situations, when to try to take some gambles, take some risk, and knowing game circumstances, things like that. I feel like I’ve gotten smarter with it, trying to avoid bad hits and things like that when I am running.”
Ultimately, the effectiveness of the offense under Smith could be summed up in the fact that six players – Smith; running backs Spencer Ware, De’Anthony Thomas, and West; wide receiver Jeremy Maclin; and Kelce – scored touchdowns Sunday.
“I like seeing them when I can’t remember who scored them,” Reid told reporters in London. “That means you scored a lot of them. That’s a good thing.”