I’ve been accused frequently of displaying an overabundance of negativity in my articles. Today I’ll do my best to shed that label. Instead of focusing on the negatives of a degrading loss to a team whose erstwhile head coach has a single winning season (2001) in his NFL career, I’ll look at what the Chiefs did right.
Tamba Hali sacked Buffalo’s no name quarterback twice, Brandon Flowers caught a pass from said no name quarterback, and Jamaal Charles made a lot of fantasy football owners happy by gaining 181 yards from scrimmage.
Now nobody can try to accuse me of not trying.
Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to say here that hasn’t been said before. I’ve been outspokenly opposed to starting Matt Cassel. The 35.4 passer rating, on the heels of last week’s 14.6 performance, sufficiently validates my case. (For those of you who will object to my use of passer rating on the grounds that I’ve called it a junk statistic in prior articles, I understand your position. It’s still a junk stat, but even junk stats are indicative of truth when they sway that far to one end of the spectrum.) I’ve been outspokenly opposed to allowing Clancy Pendergast to author a defensive game plan. On the plus side, the team didn’t allow 40 points this time out, but they did still give up 200 rushing yards. Finally, I’ve been outspokenly opposed to allowing Wade Smith to even suit up. Chris Kelsay’s and Spencer Johnson’s sacks serve as a tribute to precisely how poorly Smith plays.
Right now, however, I’m going to say something that will shock you all: it’s not Wade Smith’s fault. I sincerely mean that. Wade Smith, firmly entrenched in the dregs of the league, seemingly unable to move his feet to gain leverage against his assigned defender, should in no way be held accountable for this loss.
At the end of the first half, I was fully prepared to eat crow on my analysis of Cassel. At 18/24 for 145 yards, Cassel looked like a true contender. Jamaal Charles and Tim Castille had provided minimal run support (49 yards on 15 attempts), and his offensive line was showing little to no propensity for pass protection, allowing four sacks. Cassel was carrying the team, engineering longer drives and doing his damnedest to make chicken salad. Mind you, the team still wasn’t scoring, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on the part of its quarterback.
Following the Pittsburgh win – one which seems so much less meaningful in the light of the Steelers’ subsequent losses to the Raiders, Browns, and Clippers – I was faced with defending my criticism of Cassel to a knowledgeable acquaintance, who had observed that my favorite whipping post was developing a penchant for fourth quarter rallies. Trent Green had the same penchant. As penchants go, it’s not a bad one to possess.
Sunday’s game effectively dispelled the notion of Cassel as the comeback kid. Cassel bombed in the second half, completing 8 of 19 passes and pitching four ugly lobs into the eager hands of Buffalo’s defensive backfield. Two of the remaining three drives concluded with Dustin Colquitt punts (ugly ones, to boot) after only three downs. The only successful drive of the second half was Jamaal Charles’s 76-yard goal line sprint. On drives lasting longer than one play, Cassel simply struck out. With the game easily in reach, and with Buffalo making no notable effort to pad their lead, Cassel could not capitalize.
The past justification for this failure has been the quality (or lack thereof, rather) of blocking in front of him. Not so this time around. He was well protected. He just made poor throws. He made a lot of poor throws in the preseason too. He made even more last year in New England, but Wes Welker, much like Tony Gonzalez, possesses the ability to transform uncatchable passes into receptions. Sans transformer, Cassel is who I thought he was – a born backup with little to no upside.
Sadly, it’s a problem the fans will likely be stuck with for a while. Teams readily dispense themselves of failed running backs and receivers, regardless of draft round and/or salary. The same does not hold true for quarterbacks. The Ravens clung to fleeting hope with Kyle Boller for three seasons. The Lions did the same with Joey Harrington for four, and the Browns with Tim Couch for five. Franchises are gluttons for punishment in this regard, and, given Cassel’s salary, it’s not unlikely that the Chiefs are about to be punished.
Then again, at this juncture, what other avenue does the team have available? Brodie Croyle can’t take the beating commensurate with the job, and Matt Gutierrez is an even less proven commodity than Cassel. Besides, Johnny Unitas would struggle to lead this squad. With so many other needs, it probably still bodes best for the organization to pick their pony and stick with him for at least another year. If Sunday’s game is an indicator to what’s in store, however, just don’t hold your breath for a photo finish.