INDIANAPOLIS — A year ago, Alex Smith was buried on the San Francisco 49ers' sideline wondering where his next NFL start would come.
Now the former No. 1 overall pick has a starring role in the league's most surprising success story.
One year after finishing 2-14 and selecting first in the draft, the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) are still alive for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with two regular-season games remaining. Much of the credit goes to an opportunistic defense and explosive special teams, but Smith's own contribution is far from insignificant.
Benched for the Niners' playoff run last year as a casualty to Colin Kaepernick's stunning ascension, Smith already has posted career highs with 3,160 yards and 23 touchdown passes this fall. He's thrown just six interceptions and owns a 30-8-1 record over the past three seasons as a starter.
He wasn't the most popular choice to take over as the Chiefs' quarterback during the offseason. But he's proven to be the right one.
"This is almost sacrilegious, but I'm a BYU guy, he's a Utah guy," Kansas City head coach Andy Reid said. "They don't mesh normally. But it works here."
Smith was the consummate good soldier during the end of his run in San Francisco, but he had to be torn up inside.
Labeled a bust for much of his first five seasons in the league, something clicked in 2011 — Smith's first season under Jim Harbaugh. He completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 3,144 yards with 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions. And the 49ers finished 13-3, winning the NFC West and advancing to the NFC Championship Game before losing in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Through nine games last year, Smith was even better — leading the league with a 104.1 quarterback rating while completing 70.2 percent of his throws. Then Smith suffered a concussion during the second quarter of a tie against the St. Louis Rams.