With his undefeated team in dire need of a momentum-changing play, former Utah cornerback Sean Smith answered the call Sunday.
What transpired was one of the top plays during week nine of the NFL season.
With Kansas City trailing Buffalo 10-3 early in the third quarter, Chiefs cornerback Smith picked off rookie Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel and returned the pick 100 yards for a score. Kansas City went on to win 23-13 and moved to 9-0 on the season.
While a pair of other local NFL ties — coach Andy Reid (BYU) and quarterback Alex Smith (Utah) — have been grabbing the majority of headlines during Kansas City's run of success, this time it was Sean Smith's turn in the spotlight.
His pick-six is the first touchdown of Smith's five-year NFL career, and it came at a perfect time. With Kansas City within inches of going down double digits against the sub-.500 Bills, his interception turned the game in the Chiefs' favor.
“It was like Christmas,” Smith told the Kansas City Star. “You go out there as a little kid, and there’s like a big box right there? That’s how I felt. He threw it right to me. … (And) I knew once I caught it no one was catching me.”
That play helped ensure that the Chiefs, who have a bye next week, will be undefeated when they go on the road to face AFC West rival Denver in a highly anticipated week 11 matchup.
"That's a long haul, a long run, and he was able to get himself in the end zone," Reid told reporters during the postgame press conference. "I thought the guys around him protected him. And we needed it. At that point, we needed that score."
Smith's interception was the first of two defensive scores for Kansas City — the other being a Tamba Hali fumble return — as the Chiefs struggled to get their offense going all day. Running back Jamaal Charles finished below 100 total yards for the first time this season — he had 90 yards rushing and six receiving — and Kansas City had just 210 total yards, compared to 470 for the Bills.
Smith has proven valuable on a Kansas City defense that ranks third in the league in passing defense, allowing 208.3 yards per game and an NFL-low 12.3 points per game. He came to the Chiefs in the offseason, signing a three-year, $18 million deal after playing his first four seasons in the league with Miami.
The Chiefs have five defensive and two special teams touchdowns this season, according to ESPN's Adam Teicher, almost as many as Alex Smith's nine touchdown passes.
Sean Smith came into this year having started every game in three of his four NFL seasons, and he's been in the starting lineup all nine times for the Chiefs in 2013. He's tallied 26 tackles, and his 10 pass deflections is just two short of his season best — he had that many for the Dolphins in both 2009 and 2012.
His two interceptions this year already ties Smith for his season best, with seven games to play, and ties him for second-best on this year's Kansas City squad.
Smith teams with fellow cornerback Brandon Flowers and safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis to form the Chiefs' starting secondary. That crew is the driving force behind Kansas City's tough pass defense, which has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 53.5 percent of their passes.
Now, in a season full of memorable plays for the Chiefs, Smith has one of his own.
On the play, Smith released on wide receiver Stevie Johnson, allowing Johnson to go uncovered toward the back of the end zone. Instead of Tuel — who was making the first NFL start of his career — throwing to the open receiver, he tried to hit T.J. Graham near the goal line. Smith was there waiting for the pass, and from there, he went untouched for the score.
"Those are crippling, when you are on the other side of that," Alex Smith told reporters about Sean Smith's long pick-six. "Those are tough to overcome. We're really happy for Sean, buckling down there and making that play."
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