Just so everyone knows, before I get into what I want to say today, I am well-prepared for Sunday. I intend to watch Sunday's game on the back deck at Russ and Mona's. By "well prepared", I mean, there are (as of when I left last night) 11 bottles of wine chilling in the fridge, to cope with what could happen on Sunday. And I fully intend to grab at least a couple of the big Barefoot or Little Penguin bottles on the way over, to ensure I am properly medicated, in case this thing turns into what happened our last two trips out there (losing by a combined score of 74-14). So, if you have nothing else to do, and want to be around the last few remaining hopeful Chiefs fans come Sunday, head on over and join us.
And just to state up front, I concur with the oddsmakers -- it is far more likely that the Chiefs lose by two plus touchdowns, than it is that the Chiefs keep this thing close, or spring one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. At this moment, as I noted on Monday, there is not one credible reason to predict the Chiefs to win this football game. None. As noted at PFT this week, only two starting quarterbacks through week two have a QB rating below 71 -- Luke McCown, who has been benched for Blaine Gabbert ... and Matt Cassel. Meaning that as of this posting, Matt Cassel is officially the worst starting quarterback in the National Football League. Hang on, let me start drinking heavily ...
Three of the Chiefs key eight players are done for the year. Three weeks, three blown ACL's. (Be honest: aren't you kind of hoping that if a fourth in four weeks goes down, that it's Tyson Jackson? Or Sabby Piscitelli? I mean, for crying out loud, if we're gonna lose a player for the season every week, so be it, but God forbid we lose a sh*tty one every now and then.) The Chiefs not only have been outscored by 79 points ... the next closest "bad" team, in terms of point differential to the Chiefs, is the Seattle Seahawks, who have been outscored by 40. We are not just losing every game we play -- we are getting blown out of the building.
On paper, there is one credible reason to take the Chiefs to even cover the ridiculous 16 point spread*, and predict the outright upset. But the NFL doesn't play games on paper. The Chiefs CAN win this game. Here's what we have to do to spring the upset.
(*: you talk about disrespect -- the biggest line of the season so far was Seattle at Pittsburgh. Everyone agrees the Seahawks are terrible, and the Steelers are pretty good. Pittsburgh was a 13 1/2 point favorite. Meaning the oddsmakers think we're worse than Seattle? Come on. Even I think that's ridiculous.)
First, you have to deal with the elephant in the room. Something isn't right with this team's makeup, it's mental conditioning. I have my theory on it, and it's this -- noone in the Chiefs locker room, be it coaches, players, or front office executives, took the Bills or Lions seriously. I honestly believe we expected the Bill Maas Memorial Helmet Rule to kick in for these last two games -- if we just show up and put our helmets on, we'll win. In the interest of fairness? I felt the exact same way entering both games. I thought Buffalo would be a challenge for awhile, but didn't give them any chance to win at Arrowhead. And I refused to take the Lions as a credible NFL team ... until watching that game last week. (And even then, what if McGraw holds onto that opening interception? How different might things have been?)
This week, I expect no such issues. Everyone knows the Chargers are the favorites at this point to win the division. If you can't get up to play a legitimate Super Bowl contender, possibly with your season on the line, then you have no business being in the NFL. None.
(Note: I do not believe the season is on the line Sunday. The season is on the line next Sunday, and the following Sunday, when we host Minnesota and visit Indy, two games we should win, despite our current injury issues. That would get you to 2-3 at the bye, with a winnable roadie at oakland up next, and then three straight home games. No matter what happens Sunday, the season is not over. Well, unless the team's plane crashes or something, then I guess it'd be "over" in every sense of the word. And I would never wish that on the Red and Gold, only the blue and orange, or the silver and black.)
Secondly, you have to give some credit where it's due. Hidden in the loss at Detroit was the fact that the secondary held up fairly well. We never really got beat deep. Jon McGraw was consistently in position to make plays (and did, my God how big that opening fumble was.) Kendrick Lewis was rock solid covering Detroit's tight ends -- they only had two catches. The leaks in the secondary that Buffalo exploited, the Lions never really did. It wasn't until Chiefs wide receivers began dropping every pass, having it bounce off their hands into Lions' defenders, or having it sail right through their hands into Lions' defenders, that the score got out of hand. I see no reason to expect anything but a decent performance out of the defense on Sunday. Especially since San Diego's offensive line has serious pass protection issues, Phyllis Rivers is getting pummeled back there.
Third, the running game is not necessarily in shambles. LaRon McClain can provide you with a solid 4, 4 1/2 yard average per carry, he can be your grind it out guy. I actually liked what the gameplan evolved to after Jamaal Charles went out -- a heavier emphasis on the passing game, more draws / delayed offtackle runs when we stuck to the ground. I would hope (and expect) that the Chiefs will stick to that plan this week, because our best chance to win is to put the ball in the hands of Matt Cassel, and let him sink or swim.
Which brings me to point four, and it is this: if there is one positive to come out of Jamaal Charles' injury, and I know, I'm reaching for a positive here, it is this: we will now know beyond the shadow of any doubt if Matt Cassel is a franchise quarterback or not. For the Chiefs brain trust, the jury is still out on that one. I have my opinion on the issue, but will concede that come week 17, either everyone will conclude with my opinion (he's dead to me, cut the cord), or I'll be wearing the clown suit, the dunce cap, the helmet that "special kids" have to wear. I hope it's the latter. I fear it's the former. Either way, we will know.
This is Matt Cassel's team now. No excuses. Despite the injuries, there is still a TON of talent on this team. There's still, with even mediocre quarterback play, enough talent to go 6-8, 7-7 the rest of the way, and finish in the middle of the pack, entering the December stretch run on the fringes of the wildcard race. If Matt Cassel steps up to the plate, so to speak, and does what the Chiefs braintrust needs him to do, the Chiefs season is not dead.
Look it, nobody is more down on Cassel than I am. I think that when you drop the "f*ck him, he is DEAD to me" blast, you pretty much make your feelings known*. But if there is a slight glimmer of hope to this rapidly fading season, it's that we've seen Matt Cassel deliver in the clutch before. Let's go back to last season's lowest moment. The Chiefs are getting boatraced 35-10 in denver at the half. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the Chiefs, including Matt Cassel's awful performance. We're now staring dropping from 3-0 to 5-4 in the face, getting embarrassed at our hated rival's hands, and dropping into a tie for first with oakland and San Diego.
(*: for reference, the only three people in life I have ever noted are "dead to me", mafia style, are Matt Cassel, Tony Muser, and "Deadbeat Ex Roommate". Matt, buddy -- that is NOT good company you are keeping.)
Here is Cassel's performance from that point forward (source: espn.com box scores):
* 2nd half at denver (19-13 Chiefs advantage): 21/37 (57%), 303 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT.
* vs Arizona (Chiefs W 31-13): 15/24 (63%), 193 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 115.5 rating.
* at Seattle (Chiefs W 42-24): 22/32 (69%), 233 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT, 129.3 rating.
* vs denver (Chiefs W 10-6): 17/31 (55%), 196 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 84.9 rating.
* at St. Louis (Chiefs W 27-13): 15/29 (52%), 184 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 68.8 rating (1).
* vs Tennessee (Chiefs W 34-14): 24/34 (71%), 314 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 128.8 rating (2).
Average: 21/34 (62%), 259 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 105.5 rating.
Oh, and 5.5 "wins", 0 losses.
(1): first game back from appendectomy 11 days earlier.
(2): clinched AFC West championship.
When the Chiefs HAD to have clutch play last season, Cassel delivered, winning 5 straight starts, propelling the Chiefs to their first divisional championship since 2003. Whatever issues I may have with Cassel, the stats don't lie -- when the Chiefs HAD to have clutch play at quarterback, they got it. When the Chiefs HAD to win a ballgame, they did it, with Cassel under center.
Now, were the broncos, Cardinals, and Titans god-awful teams last year? Yes. If the Chiefs and those teams met on a neutral field in Wichita ten times, I would expect the Chiefs to win 10 times. But winning at Seattle is nothing to laugh about -- ask the New Orleans Saints or the San Diego Chargers. Winning in St. Louis is nothing to laugh at either -- ask the Chargers, whose loss at the Dome cost them the division title.
Beginning Sunday, Cassel faces another stretch of games where, if the Chiefs are to be successful on the field and climb back into title contention, Cassel has to be the difference-maker. He also, perhaps most importantly, faces a stretch of very winnable games, and that includes Sunday's tilt at the Q. We know from last year that he CAN do it, that he CAN rally the Chiefs and lead us back into contention for a playoff berth and a division championship. CAN he do it, is not the question.
WILL he do it, THAT is the question.
If you put a gun to my head and made me wager my existance on the answer to that question, I'd say "no". But like the rest of you, I'll be tuned in, praying that I'm wrong. Because no matter how negative, angry, irate, frustrated, or embarrassed as a Chiefs fan I might feel today ... I'm still a Chiefs fan. That negativity, anger, rage, frustration, and embarrassment comes from the fact that I love these guys. I love the Red and Gold. (I'm also on the hook for another seven games, son of a ...) I know virtually everyone else reading this does too. Let's hope that blind support gets rewarded come 6ish Sunday night ...