Cassel Shares Blame In Chiefs' Loss

Since the third week of preseason, the talk in Kansas City has been about quarterback Matt Cassel's health, when he'd be ready to start. That question wasn't answered until Sunday morning when Cassel got the nod to play against Oakland. It's the answer everybody in Kansas City was looking for, but in hindsight, maybe it wasn't the best answer.

Cassel squandered a chance to put points on the board at the end of the first half Sunday and threw two costly interceptions after halftime. If the Chiefs even so much as convert a field goal at the conclusion of any of the possessions Cassel made mistakes on, they force overtime, at least.

Cassel's injury didn't affect him against the Raiders, and in fact, he appeared rather unfazed by his left knee as he scrambled all over the field in an attempt to make plays. I'm not calling for Brodie Croyle to be the starter, but it's entirely possible the outcome of Sunday's 13-10 loss may have been swayed if someone else were under center. On all three blunders, the Chiefs were in Oakland territory. JaMarcus Russell was supposed to be the quarterback on the field Sunday who beat himself with bad mistakes, not Cassel.

The debacle that was KC's clock management in the first half wasn't entirely Cassel's fault. Somehow, the Chiefs were forced to burn two timeouts in the first quarter, and it appeared getting the plays in from the sideline was the catalyst for those wasted timeouts. Head coach Todd Haley focused on that issue.

"We've got to be better, because when you use timeouts early in a game like that it usually comes back to haunt you some way or another," he said. "We can't do it. To me, one of my top three things here is to have an intelligent team (it's at the top of the list). That includes all of the coaches and players. We didn't show that today…I'm not going to make excuses. We have methods to get plays called that we didn't get done. We have all the technology in the world and we didn't get it done."

Some fault also lies at the feet of Dantrell Savage, who was unable to get out of bounds at the end of the first half. Of course, some credit for that belongs to Oakland's defense. However, it was a poor decision by Cassel to even throw the ball to Savage, who had no prayer of scoring. As close as Kansas City was, that little check-down pass, even if Savage had managed to get out of bounds, wouldn't have made a field goal attempt any easier for Ryan Succop. Cassel should have thrown it away or taken a shot in the end zone.

Both second half interceptions were inexcusable. Sure, Oakland safety Michael Huff made a terrific play on the second pick, but Cassel overshooting his receiver made that a possibility. Huff's first takeaway was an egregious error. Cassel was trying to squeeze the ball where it wouldn't fit, and Huff took advantage.

Of course, if Kansas City's secondary had taken advantage of a couple interception opportunities, Cassel's errors would have been overshadowed. In the first half, Brandon Flowers jumped a route and let a pick-six slide right through his fingers. If he hauls that in, the Chiefs win. Also, on Oakland's game-winning drive, Maurice Leggett had the chance to haul in an interception that would have sealed a victory for the Chiefs. It would have been a tough play to make, but it was makeable nonetheless.

This game is not a microcosm of what Cassel's career will be. I don't think he'll consistently make multiple errors that cost his team the game, but he did Sunday. I'm not calling for his job and again, I'm not lobbying for Croyle. I'm not second-guessing the decision to ink him to a long-term deal, but we should recognize he was in error.

Something else that was obvious Sunday was the atrocity of the personal foul called on Wallace Gilberry during the Raiders' game-winning drive. Russell fell over on his own accord, and was not forced down by a Chief, so Gilberry and Tank Tyler jumped on the quarterback to down him by contact.

Flagging Kansas City for that was a horrid call, and neither the telecast with Solomon Wilcots nor the radio broadcast with Mitch Holthus and Len Dawson caught that. It was an obvious error, and one that quite possibly cost Kansas City the win. If the ref makes the correct call, the Raiders are facing a second-and-18 situation on their own side of the field instead of a fresh set of downs on KC's 47-yard line.

However you look at it, the Chiefs are 0-2, and the naysayers will crawl out of the woodwork soon. If you want to generalize about the Chiefs after every game, like many do, you can say Cassel stinks and the Chiefs are terrible, but I advise against that line of thought.

If you thought it was damning last week that the Chiefs lost despite being plus two in the turnover margin, then you have to think it was promising they nearly won despite being minus two this week. If you thought it was encouraging the Chiefs hung in there on the road against a good team that put up over 500 total yards of offense, then you have to admit it's not so promising they lost to a bad team at home that was out-gained, 409-166.

I know it's the same message I shared last week, but it's still way too early to draw conclusions about the Chiefs' 2009 season. Last week, their defense looked bad, except for a couple big plays. This week, their defense looked great, except for a couple big plays. Last week, their quarterback managed the game well and protected the ball, but made no spectacular plays. This week, not so much. That is the ebb and flow of the NFL.

Sometimes teams get lucky, but the really good teams tend to put themselves in the right place at the right time more often. I don't think anyone is surprised the Chiefs aren't ready to be one of those really good teams just yet. Don't panic and hit the eject button on this season yet, and try not to level any final judgments either.

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