A tough loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is hardly the most challenging thing Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has had to overcome in his 12 years in the league.
So when it comes to handling adversity like a professional, there's few who might be more adept to handle such situations than Smith, who said earlier this week that there's a sense of urgency with this team, but that it restarts each week with a new focus.
"The opportunities in general are going to get less and less here," Smith explained of the final six games of the regular season. "You have to make them count. We have a huge challenge in front of us and you know you have to move on, find a way to go get a win and then you're right back on top. That's the nature of this game and the NFL, you live week to week.
"From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows—you battle fighting that—staying in between, keeping level-headed, keep preparing every week doing the little things."
The Chiefs currently have the second-best record in the AFC at 7-3, and if the season ended today, would be in the playoffs for the third time in the four years under head coach Andy Reid and with Smith under center.
The loss to the Buccaneers snapped a five-game winning streak, but even with the team facing three teams over the next three weeks who have a combined record of 21-9, Smith isn't worried about a difficult path standing in the way of a team that's proven to handle these kinds of situations successfully in the past.
"It's the character," Smith explained of what gives him confidence in this team. "The situations we've been in—not just this year but in years prior—the type of leadership we have in the locker room through the good, bad and in-between and how we handle ourselves.
"It was a tough loss (on Sunday), but we're still 7-3 with everything in front of us. It's all going to start this week. I think this team realizes it's a big challenge this week and we need to bounce back."
Smith could be referring to the 10-game regular-season winning streak last year that got the Chiefs to the playoffs after beginning the season with a 1-5 record, or he could be referring to the injuries they've had to overcome at different points over the past three seasons, all while finishing with a winning record every year and being relevant in the AFC picture.
But Smith knows that all facets of the game, including the offense, need to be better than they've been over the past few games if they're to reach the expectations that this team has earned the right to have.
"There's no question that on offense that we want to go out and score every time we touch the football and want to be successful," Smith said. "In the end though, it's just finding a way to win—whatever that may be, and it changes week to week. The challenge is different and the situations change.
"You never know, whether it be two-minute, four-minute, end of games – things like that. Really that's it, that's the focus, to help this team and to continue to get better, and hopefully you're peaking towards the end of the season."
While the red zone interception against the Buccaneers got plenty of attention as a big play in that game, the 12 plays on the next drive that took the Chiefs 78 yards down the field in less than four minutes—culminating with a touchdown pass from Smith to Albert Wilson, still put them in a position to have a chance to win that game.
The Buccaneers were able to convert a key third down, and while there are many plays in that game that Smith and the offense would like to have back, the focus at this point is on the Broncos.
"It's a big, big challenge," Smith said of the game against the Broncos, which was recently flexed to be nationally televised on Sunday night. "Huge game, but every week I feel like it's a huge game. I think people love to go into this whole make-or-break deal. We're in it this week, this is a big, big game for us. It's a division game on the road. It'll be a hostile environment at their place and it's been bumped to Sunday night.
"I think this team is excited about it. I think they're excited to get this taste out of our mouth from last week, and we understand the importance of it."
Smith is 2-2 in his career against the Broncos in Denver, including helping lead the team to a 29-13 victory there last year, although the Broncos still ultimately went on to win the division for the fifth straight year, and then won the Super Bowl as well.
"They're really experienced on the back end now," Smith explained of the Broncos defense. "They have maybe the best pair of corners in the league – they're really, really good – safeties that have played a ton of football and then obviously they're good up front and get after the passer.
"They have two edge guys that can really go, so it's a big challenge. They'll be at home and they'll have the advantage of the crowd."
While the Chiefs have been the best team in the league at taking the ball away from their opponents, the Broncos defense—led by All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., plus the enforcer on the back end—safety T.J. Ward, rank second in the league with 20 takeaways.
The Broncos have also turned those 20 takeaways into 93 points, which lead the league.
The importance of taking care of the football has never been something Smith has had to be reminded of, as the stats speak for themselves.
Under Reid and Smith over the past three-plus years, the Chiefs are 27-5 in games in which they win the turnover battle, including being 6-0 in that area this year.
The turnover battle is arguably the single most important statistic outside of points scored in football, and the two teams squaring off on Sunday night have built their success around the ability to take it away from their opponents.
"We've been in a lot of battles with these guys over the years and I'm sure this will be no different," Smith added. "It'll be intense – even more so probably knowing that it'll be Sunday night. It's what football is all about, it's what team sports are all about, when you have these great rivalries like this, a big division game late in the year here, it'll be fun."
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