Kragthorpe: Tough endings for QBs Alex Smith, Andy Dalton
Published: January 6, 2014 12:41PM
Updated: January 11, 2014 07:06PM
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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) passes the ball against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

As the NFL’s entertaining wild-card playoff weekend unfolded, I couldn’t decide whether to feel more sorry for the quarterback who threw four touchdown passes or the one who lost three critical turnovers.

Kansas City’s Alex Smith and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton both lost. Smith definitely deserved to beat Indianapolis; Dalton deserved to lose to San Diego. But each was a sympathetic figure, in his own way.

Smith played brilliantly for most of Saturday’s game, with 378 yards passing in a 45-44 defeat. It was fun to see him use the shovel pass the way he once did at the University of Utah, only those were designed plays in the Urban Meyer offense as opposed to his improvisations against the Colts.

He looked like the quarterback who once led San Francisco past New Orleans in a playoff game with his passing and running. Smith’s only real mistakes came when he fumbled after being chased down from behind on a scramble and when he overthrew a wide-open Cyrus Gray running down the sideline. But it would be asking a lot of the Chiefs’ offense to produce more than 44 points, especially amid some key injuries. Smith had a terrific year in his move to Kansas City, and it’s unfortunate that the Chiefs’ season won’t continue Sunday at Denver.

Instead, defensive back Eric Weddle, Smith’s former Ute teammate, will lead San Diego against the Broncos. The Chargers topped Cincinnati 27-10, shutting out Dalton’s offense in the second half.

Dalton was such a presence in the four years (2007 to 2010) when TCU faced Utah and BYU in the Mountain West that he almost seems like a local product. He was a great competitor and classy person while going 5-3 in a series of high-profile games against the Utes and Cougars.

So it’s easy to cheer for Dalton in the NFL, except that he keeps failing in the playoffs. The Bengals have lost in the wild-card round for three straight years, and this was their biggest blown opportunity. Cincinnati was playing at home and held a halftime lead, only to have Dalton lose a fumble and throw two interceptions, enabling the Chargers to take control.

That victory was a big breakthrough for former Ute quarterback Mike McCoy, in his first season as San Diego’s coach. And now he’ll go back to Denver, where his tenure as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator ended with last January’s overtime loss to Baltimore in the divisional playoff round.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt