Early in the fourth quarter, the Kansas City Chiefs were down 17-13 after giving up 17 unanswered points to the Tennessee Titans. Chiefs QB Alex Smith was trying to extend a five-play drive when he scrambled towards the sidelines on third and five.
That’s when things turned for the Chiefs.
As Smith approached the sideline, it was clear he wasn’t going to pick up the first down, so he started to step out of bounds. Before his foot landed on the sideline, Titans linebacker Moise Fokou left his feet to make sure the quarterback came up short.
As the two collided on the sideline, Smith was short of the first down, but a flag was down on the ground. Unnecessary roughness was the call and the Chiefs went from needing to decide between going for it on fourth and short or punting from the Titans 42 yard line.
“The way I looked at it, I thought he was still in,” Fokou told the Titans official site. “I was going full-speed, left my feet, and I don’t know how to stop mid-air.”
Former NFL defensive back Solomon Wilcots was working as an analyst for CBS and the penalty was one of many he questioned throughout the broadcast.
But no matter if it was a legitimate penalty or not, it was called and the Chiefs had new life with a first down at the Titans 27-yard line. They never faced third down on that drive again, scoring six plays later on a one yard Jamaal Charles run.
That key penalty got the ball rolling downhill for the Titans. On their next possession, Tennessee QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted on the very first play by rookie CB Marcus Cooper.
Kansas City turned that field position into a Ryan Succop FG and a six point lead.
The Titans were able to run four plays on their next drive before Fitzpatrick was picked off again. This time it was veteran safety Quintin Demps pulling down the interception and he added a nifty 32 yard return, once again handing the Chiefs fantastic field position.
And once again Kansas City came away with a Succop field goal, good for a nine point lead and a fifth straight victory.
Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner saw it pretty clearly.
“I know in Fokou’s mind he’s saying, ‘Make sure this guy does not get the first down,’ and Alex Smith in the past games, he’s dove and tried to get those first downs because he’s that type of quarterback, so it’s a tough situation for him,”
Former Chief Bernard Pollard, who knows plenty about controversial quarterback hits, knows it was a clean hit, but also how the league is calling things these days.
“The quarterback wasn’t out yet, but the way the rules and everything is going, if a guy gets to the white line, they’re going to call a penalty, especially on a quarterback.”
We’ve talked plenty over the first four weeks about how Smith is playing fire with those sideline scrambles. Though the hit wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, it sure looked in real time — and was confirmed on replay — to be a clean play.
Smith got lucky this time that he wasn’t hurt and picked up a huge penalty. But if he’s going to survive the season, he’ll need to be much more careful when he scrambles. Not just on bang-bang sideline plays, but Sunday he also went airborne and landed awkwardly on his side/back.
When you keep taking those kind of hits, luck is only going to carry you for so long.