A few weeks ago a photographic caption cartoon entitled “A Tale Of Two Matts” circulated through Chiefs fan sites and forums. It featured a series of pics, mostly of former USC quarterbacks Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, and an increasingly… ummm… eccentric Mark Sanchez, together dubbed the Brojans, and it profiled the ascent of Cassel along with the descent of Leinart and Palmer (making no mention of the fact that Sanchez has played no better than either of them for several weeks now). Toward the end of the cartoon, Cassel, sitting on the bench in his Trojans uniform, states that his time will come. Three frames later, Dwayne Bowe says to Cassel the four truest, most pointed words that he could possibly hope to hear in real life at this juncture: “the time is now.”
I’ve been accused for much of the season of being unduly harsh toward Cassel. I understand the accusations and don’t deny that to some degree they’re probably correct. I’m critical of him, however, because while a lot of his games have looked good on stat sheets, what happened on paper didn’t reflect what happened on the field. Also, in games where he showed a greater propensity for completing passes downfield, I’ve made mention of it.
Today I’ll make mention of it.
For Cassel, the time is now. As San Diego closes out their season competing against the dregs of the league, Kansas City closes theirs with contests against ascending teams, none of whom have eclipsed the .500 mark, but all of whom have demonstrated the grit of a team that easily could. Thus, the best (and perhaps only) way to ensure that San Diego does not take the division, starting today, Kansas City needed to win out. Cassel came back from surgery to a team that, in his absence, looked lost, as if they had abandoned hope. Do I think his absence was the cause of it? No, but it doesn’t change that he was handed the responsibility of leading his demoralized troops into battle.
Through one quarter, they looked little different from the team that took the field seven days prior. This was a punt-happy team again, wholly content to rely on Dustin Colquitt’s million dollar leg. As an added bonus, Cassel tossed his first pick in well over a month, and an ugly one to boot. Dwayne Bowe turned back into a pumpkin, doing his best Freddie Mitchell impersonation. Chris Chambers did an impersonation of… well… Chris Chambers. Then came a failed challenge, followed by a badly floated pass over the head of third string tailback Jackie Battle on an easy 3rd and 1.
Around this time, good old gamblin’ man Todd Haley showed up and decided that, despite being on the wrong side of the 50-yard line, it was four down territory. He also decided that on a critical 4th and 1, there was no better play than to tuck the ball in the gut of the aforementioned third string tailback and hope for the best.
The gamble paid off, and suddenly the rust was gone, both from the team and from Cassel. Two plays later, Cassel connected with Dwayne Bowe on a perfectly executed sideline route wherein Bowe demonstrated all his cunning by cleanly separating from a mentally outmatched defensive back. Leonard Pope caught a touchdown pass. Thomas Jones broke the career 10,000 yard mark. Even Chambers got in on the action, fielding a 26-yard pitch that set up a Jamaal Charles touchdown. All before halftime.
It was in those two drives that the Kansas City Chiefs ceased to be a run-first offense. Cassel made the Rams fear his arm. With a 68.8 passer rating, this will appear to nobody to be Cassel’s best game of the season, but it was. Nobody will ever view it as a turning point in his career, but it might be. The time is now. He can define his future in the next two weeks, or he can obscure it. He must lead, not follow, his team into the playoffs. I’m still far from crowning the guy quarterback of the future, but I’m a lot closer than I was 24 hours ago. I doubt I’m alone.
In all this discussion of offense and playoffs and 10,000 yard careers, I’ve perhaps failed to touch upon the most important aspect of today’s game: the Chiefs now have their first winning season since 2006. I’ve also failed to touch upon a rather solid defensive showing today, but that’s okay. I can sum up their performance in three words: Wallace Gilberry – outstanding.
In the words of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore: Christmas, Christmas time is here. Time for nuts and time for beer. To the fridge.