KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the pocket broke down and Alex Smith took off running, the Chiefs quarterback made sure to pick up as much yardage as possible before sliding feet-first, just as he'd always been taught.
Chargers cornerback Jahleel Addae laid a lick on him anyway.
There was no flag for a late hit on the play, but that didn't stop Smith from popping to his feet and delivering Addae some rather harsh words.
And for good reason, considering Smith's importance to his team and the stunningly high rate of injury among quarterbacks in the NFL this season.
"He's a tough kid. All these guys that play that position are tough kids," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Wednesday. "There's a lot of glory in that position, and a lot of pub that goes with it, but down underneath it, those are tough guys doing it. The ones that make it through are very fortunate."
Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, the Chiefs' opponent this weekend.
Joe Flacco was lost for the season with a knee injury, and backup Matt Schaub is dealing with the after-effects of a concussion. So that could mean Jimmy Clausen is under center against Kansas City.
The same story is playing out elsewhere around the league, too.
The Bengals, in the midst of a playoff chase, lost Andy Dalton when he broke his thumb making a tackle, and had to sign former Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning off the practice squad for depth.
The Texans are also chasing a playoff spot, but will have T.J Yates at the helm for their game against Indianapolis after Brian Hoyer sustained a concussion. And the Colts are in a similar situation with Andrew Luck still sidelined by a lacerated kidney and Matt Hasselbeck dealing with sore ribs.
Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Josh McCown — the list of ailing QBs goes on and on.
"I hadn't thought about it. You get so wrapped up in your own world," Ravens coach John Harbaugh replied, when asked about the epidemic of injured quarterbacks. "I don't really have an answer for it."
Harbaugh did acknowledge the Chiefs are fortunate to have Smith on the field every week.
Since he arrived in a trade with San Francisco nearly three seasons ago, he has missed only two games. One occurred when the Chiefs sat all their starters with a playoff spot already assured, and the other was last season, when Smith hurt his spleen and missed the season finale.
"For everybody, you want to be dependable, accountable, someone you know will be there week-in and week-out," Smith said. "Everybody battles through stuff but yeah, you want to be dependable."
Dependability is only part of the equation. Being effective is just as important.
Smith has been both for Kansas City.
He threw his first interception after 312 errorless attempts last weekend against San Diego, but also threw the touchdown pass to Albert Wilson that provided the margin of victory.
Smith has also put together five games with a passer rating of 100-plus, and his 15-to-4 touchdown-to-interception rate is best in the NFL and pacing for the best of his 10-year career.
Smith said he takes pride in staying on the field, and understands that an injury to him would be much more difficult to absorb that any other player on the team. That's why he is so quick to throw the ball away when he's under duress, or slip out of bounds when he's flushed from the pocket.
He may have been sacked 40 times already, but few have been memorable contact.
"I'm always playing the same way," he said," but you learn it over time. You evaluate all those situations, as you're running — where you're at. Third down, first down. You get better at knowing the game situation and playing fast and being smart about it."
So far, Smith has been smart enough to stay on the field all season.
Notes: LB Justin Houston visited Dr. James Andrews for another opinion on his injured knee, though the Chiefs remain hopeful he will return this season. Houston has been day to day since getting hurt against Buffalo on Nov. 11. ... QB Tyler Bray (knee) had his three-week practice period end Tuesday. He was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list Wednesday. ... S Husain Abdullah (concussion), WR De'Anthony Thomas (concussion) and RB Spencer Ware (ribs) did not practice. LB Tamba Hali was also held out, though that has been his weekly routine.