Chiefs Dealing With A Thigpenigma

We can't really blame Herm Edwards or KC's coaching staff for the Chiefs' 11th loss this year, no matter how good it might feel. Nope, Herm shocked us all by going for it on fourth down multiple times, eschewing a worthless field goal late in the fourth quarter and showing uncommon restraint in the way the Chiefs' offense attacked Denver's defense with the pass.

It would have made complete sense, after the Chiefs went ahead early in the first half and led into the second half, to start handing the ball to Larry Johnson against a defense that hadn't stopped him in September and has stopped few running backs since. But instead, the Chiefs put the game in the hands of Tyler Thigpen.

Unfortunately, Thigpen didn't reward that vote of confidence. After halftime Sunday against the Broncos, Thigpen completed only five of 13 passes against a Denver secondary that was without top defender Champ Bailey. That's troubling when you consider that opposing quarterbacks have been completing passes against the Broncos at a 67-percent clip this year.

What's even more troubling is how Thigpen's game went south in the second half. It's not like the Chiefs' pass protection was terrible or the receivers were all blanketed. Simply put, it was just one bad throw after another.

With the game tied at 17 midway through the third quarter, Thigpen had Devard Darling open deep for an easy touchdown pass. Darling had two steps on his man, and yet Thigpen's throw sailed well out of bounds. It wasn't even close.

On the Chiefs' next possession, Thigpen had Tony Gonzalez open over the middle for at least a first down, and maybe more. But he badly missed his tight end high. On the next down, Gonzalez had a step on his coverage down the sideline, but Thigpen overthrew him again. Gonzalez didn't even have a chance to make a play on the ball.

With the Chiefs needing a score late in the game, Thigpen's throw to the corner of the end zone for Dwayne Bowe, again, wasn't even close. Bowe would have needed 15-foot arms to make a play on the ball.

What should really make that last throw stand out in your mind is how it almost exactly mirrored a throw Denver's young quarterback, Jay Cutler, had to make earlier in the game. Cutler was standing on the left hash mark, throwing to the left corner of the end zone, attempting to squeeze the ball in over the heads of two Chiefs' defensive backs, and into the hands of Brandon Marshall.

There wasn't much room for error. But Cutler made it look easy. The throw couldn't have been more perfect.

In a mirror image of the same situation – the right hash mark, the right corner of the end zone – Thigpen's throw sailed over the heads of two Broncos' defensive backs, but unfortunately never came close to Bowe.

One quarterback made the play. The other didn't. Which quarterback deserves the tag of "franchise?"

You might point out that Cutler is in his third season and Thigpen is essentially a rookie. You'd be right, but even so Cutler has been making dynamite throws – like the one he hit Marshall with in the corner of the end zone – since his rookie season, when he replaced Jake Plummer at the end of the year.

Cutler rarely misses opportunities when his receivers are wide open deep for six points, as Darling was Sunday in the third quarter. He's a true franchise quarterback. You could see his potential from day one, even when he was making mistakes.

What it all boils down to for Thigpen and the Chiefs is you wonder if he'll ever be a consistently accurate quarterback, with the ability to make the kind of throw he had to make at the end of the game Sunday in Denver. You wonder if he'll ever get to a point where he can hit wide-open receivers deep (Devard Darling, who hasn't had his name mentioned this many times in a column for months) in his sleep.

Making matters worse, Thigpen's other limiting factor, his height, came into play late in the game Sunday. On first-and-goal, a pass intended for an open Gonzalez was deflected at the line of scrimmage, and could have been intercepted. Matt Ryan, who keeps proving every week in Atlanta that he's the franchise quarterback the Falcons thought he was, doesn't have that sort of problem (it's worth noting that the last eight Super Bowl winners all had quarterbacks 6-foot-4 or taller).

So despite what Gonzalez said after the game Sunday – that Thigpen should be KC's starter next season - there are still questions about just how good he is. It's obvious he can play in the league. It's also becoming more obvious with every inaccurate throw that he might not be the guy to take the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.

So the enigma is this - do the Chiefs stick with a good quarterback and pass up a chance to acquire a potentially great one, who already demonstrates the ability to make great throws? Matt Stafford and Sam Bradford are waiting for their chance to show they can make that throw into the corner of the end zone.

If you ask me, the Chiefs' "Thigpenigma" should not prevent them from drafting another quarterback this offseason. The goal is to be great, not good.

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