If the Chiefs want to save their season, it could be time for the rookie to replace the veteran at QB. (Michael Ainsworth/AP)

There was a time this season when a good case could be made for Alex Smith being the front-runner for MVP. And now, there is a good case to be made that Smith should be benched in favor of rookie Patrick Mahomes.

That’s how quickly things can change in the NFL.

And that’s how quickly things have changed for the Kansas City Chiefs, the league’s top team for the season’s first five weeks but now well on their way to playing themselves entirely out of the playoffs.

The Chiefs lost, 16-10, at home to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, and are 1-5 since starting the season 5-0. They still lead a division, the AFC West, that was once thought to be powerful but is turning out to be almost comically bad. That division lead is now down to one game over the Los Angeles Chargers, who started the season 0-4, and the Oakland Raiders, regarded by some as one of the league’s most disappointing teams this season.

Smith’s numbers remain strong. For the season, he has 19 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a passer rating of 104.5. Few quarterbacks have been replaced with such stats.

But lately, Smith has been part of the problem. He has one touchdown pass and three interceptions over the past two games, losses to the New York Giants and the Bills. The Chiefs have totaled only 36 points over their past three games, all defeats.

The Chiefs traded up to select Mahomes 10th overall in this year’s draft. He is the quarterback of the future in Kansas City, and it stands to reason that future will begin by the outset of next season.

Perhaps it should begin now.

The downward spiral is not necessarily Smith’s fault. But head coaches and quarterbacks get more than their fair share of the credit or the blame in the NFL. And, in this case, Smith is receiving more of the blame than he probably deserves.

Still, it’s time for Coach Andy Reid to do something. Staying the course is not going to get this fixed.

Reid is talking about everyone, including himself, sharing in the blame for what’s happening. He says that he’s not considering a quarterback switch. Such patience is what makes Reid a stable, successful coach. He’s not one to overreact.

But it also might be why he never has won a Super Bowl. There are times when urgency is needed. There are times when drastic moves must be made. Every once in a while, it truly is time to panic.

This might be one of those times.

Reid clearly doesn’t want to do it. He wants to stick with Smith through the end of this season, ride out the tough times and then reevaluate his quarterback situation in the offseason.

But circumstances have changed the timeline. There is a season to be saved. Doing nothing might not be an option if Reid is looking for a way to jolt his team out of its current doldrums.

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