A week later, the Chiefs blew it, losing to the Raiders and eventually relinquishing their hold on first place in the AFC West. Cassel wasn't terrible, but was hardly the player he needed to be considering the scope of the game. If he couldn't elevate his game in a midseason battle for first place, how could he possibly do it with the playoffs on the line?
The Chiefs needed a general to lead them into battle. With their running game and defense playing at a comparatively high level, their quarterback, I quipped, was more akin to a little drummer boy, who handed the ball to the real soldiers.
A week later, the little drummer boy looked helpless while the real soldiers were massacred in Denver.
The situation seemed hopeless. The 5-4 Chiefs looked like a bunch of frauds. Labeled as playoff contenders, in reality they were pretenders being led by The Great Pretender. Cassel, it seemed, was the biggest fraud of them all - handpicked to be a franchise quarterback, awarded the salary of a franchise quarterback, constantly lauded by some as "the guy," but nothing close to what a franchise quarterback should actually be.
It was time for an ultimatum. As dire as the situation appeared, should Cassel deliver the Chiefs to the playoffs, I posed that his mission for 2010 would be considered complete. Privately, I snickered at the very idea. The little drummer boy was going to hold off Philip Rivers? Ha!
Who's laughing now?
Six weeks and five wins later, the Chiefs are in the playoffs. Cassel, who has taken a flamethrower to both NFL defenses and his biggest critic, is the reason. He has literally transformed himself. He is driving Kansas City's offense, and the last two weeks are undeniable proof.
It might be easy to dismiss Cassel's resurgence as a product of Kansas City's running game. The Chiefs are still the #1 running team and have 362 yards rushing the last two weeks. But statistics can be deceiving. If you asked Charlie Weis, he'd probably tell you the truth – Kansas City's running game has been terrible the last two weeks, and Cassel is picking up the slack.
Third and 19? Sling it, Cassel.
Despite the running game producing like Larry Johnson was taking the handoffs, and despite two third-down drops from Kansas City's receivers, the Chiefs led the Rams at halftime, 14-6. The reason: Matt Cassel, and this was a few days after his guts had been ripped out.
The idea that Cassel's game against the Rams was an NFC-West aided fluke was debunked against the Tennessee Titans last weekend. Once again, the Chiefs' early running game went in the dumpster, producing 40 yards (17 on one play) on 10 carries through KC's first three possessions, for a grand total of two rushing first downs.
And the Chiefs led 17-0. Because Cassel was smoking red hot like he's never been before, completing eight in a row to start the game and 13 of his first 16 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns, good for a quarterback rating of 144.2, which is pretty close to perfect. And then Cassel decided he wanted to be perfect.
Facing third and 19, Cassel could have dumped the ball off and let KC's offense punt. That's exactly what he would have done six weeks ago when the Chiefs blew their lead in the division. Instead, he rifled a ball over the middle of the field to Dwayne Bowe, who caught it in stride for a 75-yard touchdown. It was a perfect pass. And then – ding! - Cassel's quarterback rating hit 158.3, the perfect rating. The same rating Trent Green posted on an overcast December day when the Chiefs clinched their last division title in 2003.
The Chiefs were ahead 24-0, the most points they've scored in a half this year, and the Titans weren't coming back. It was because of Cassel. Kansas City's offense would put up 327 total yards before halftime, the third most in team history. The reason? Cassel.
The bottom line: The Chiefs are 5-0 with Matt Cassel since the massacre in Denver. In those five games, KC's offense is averaging 27.4 points and Cassel is averaging 224 yards passing at a 62 percent clip with 11 touchdowns and one interception (106.5 rating). Stats may be for losers, but the Chiefs are winners. The statistics only reinforce the proof of Cassel's transformation.
The Chiefs are division champions because of Matt Cassel. They win because of him, not in spite of him. You couldn't say that six weeks ago.
The little drummer boy is dead. It's time to go to war again, and this time, Kansas City has a general firing 75-yard touchdowns.
WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
What do you think of Cassel now?