Relish the Chiefs somewhat surprising four wins in what coach Todd Haley likes to call the second quarter of the season, because you won't see that duplicated again for the rest of the season. Think I'm just a frustrated old crank? Check the remaining games on the schedule for the 4-7 and falling-fast Chiefs.
The winnable portion of the Chiefs' 2011 schedule is regrettably behind them. Over the next five weeks they go to the Windy City for a battle with Da Bears, New Jersey to face the New York Jets, return home for consecutive weeks to go against the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and AFC West-leading Oakland Raiders, and finish up on the road on New Year's Day against the league's newest surprising club in Team Tebow.
That's the reward for winning 10 games a year ago - a division winner's schedule the following season - which they won't come anywhere close to this time around. In fairness, Kansas City's lovable losers of the gridiron have been operating at a severe handicap all season, having lost both their top running back and their best defensive back in the first couple of games of the season, their starting tight end before the season even started and, the killer of all, their starting quarterback in the tenth game of the season.
Coach Todd Haley and his coaching staff have done a fairly good job countering the loss of key offensive and defensive personnel throughout the season, but when quarterback Matt Cassel went down after suffering a broken index finger in Kansas City's stunning home loss to Denver in Week 11, they faced their worst fears: having to go with a backup quarterback with no experience and very limited ability by NFL standards.
This one is on general manager Scott Pioli. Everyone knew going into the season that the Chiefs were most vulnerable at the quarterback position should something happen to Cassel to prevent him from playing at some point in the season. This is not a problem that rests with the Chiefs alone. It is a concern of most NFL teams, only the Chiefs chose to not manage the risk seriously. Consequently, when it came time to make the final roster decisions for this season, the team management chose to retain two backup quarterbacks - Ricki Stanzi, a rookie out of Iowa, and Tyler Palko, who played college ball at Pittsburgh and has been in the NFL for parts of five seasons - who you have to question even belong in the National Football league.
If you watched the game Sunday night, you saw Palko throw interceptions on successive possessions in the opening half and also cough up the ball on a third possession. Then, with the Chiefs driving late in the final quarter for what could have been a game-winning touchdown, Palko threw a critical third interception, ending Kansas City's hopes. An absolutely pathetic quarterback performance. It's a miracle the Chiefs were even in this game, going against one of the better teams in the league. Give credit to KC's beleaguered defense for holding the Steelers to just 13 points, all scored in the first half.
In the two games Palko has started (vs. New England and Pittsburgh), he has a 47.5 passer rating and has thrown three interceptions in both games. Cassel only had nine INTs in 10 games. Worst of all, the Chiefs offense has gone AWOL with Palko at the controls. Kansas City has just four field goals in the two games since Cassel has been out of the lineup.
Discounting the two years that Joe Montana spent here in the sunset of his Hall of Fame career, you have to go practically all the way back to Len Dawson and the hey days of the great Chiefs teams of the 1960s and early ‘70s to when Kansas City last had what would be considered a franchise quarterback. Thirty one men have started at quarterback in the history of the Kansas City Chiefs, and I'll bet most of us couldn't name as many as ten of them right off of the top of our heads. That's how bad it's been. Five different quarterbacks actually started for the guys in red and gold in 1987, the most in a single season in team history.
Do the names Elvis Grbac, Steve Bono, Todd Blackledge, Tyler Thigpen and Damon Huard ring a bell? What's with QBs by the first name of Tyler, anyway? The Chiefs don't appear to be able to do much better than that lately. And I'm not sure that Cassel doesn't belong in this same conversation. I recognize that he is Pioli's boy from back in their days together at New England, which is why he is here now. But I have to question is really starting quarterback material in the NFL. If you ask me, he is a journeyman, serviceable backup in this league, at best, but he is does not have the talent and the physical and leadership skills to lead the chiefs or any other team in the NFL to a Super Bowl championship or probably even a conference crown. I'm sorry, but that just the way it is.
For most of the team's 51 years of existence (48 of that in Kansas City) - and that spans several management regimes, although under one ownership family - the Chiefs have appeared to treat the quarterback position as a functional necessity but not as the position.
Until the Chiefs' management finally wakes up and realizes that the core of the team's problem resides at quarterback, and not just the first-line signal caller but his backup, the one-time Super Bowl champions are never going to get a return engagement, let alone be a championship contender and win consistently. There are other key positions, for sure, and they are all integrally important to fielding a winning football team. But it all starts at quarterback.
Championship teams are built around great quarterbacks and great quarterback play. History has shown that. The Baltimore Colts may never have achieved the level of success that they did without Johnny Unitas. The same is true for the Green Bay Packers without Bart Starr under center. More recently, you could put the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots in that category without their future Hall-of-Famers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, respectively.
Pioli has already been there once. Certainly he hasn't forgotten how it all works. Or is he just too stubborn and proud to admit that Cassel is not going to get the job done, and he's certainly not going to deliver what those other superstars have.
As for bringing in a suitable backup, the Chiefs signed another journeyman QB late last week in former Denver and Chicago Bears signal caller Kyle Orton. Orton is not the answer, either, but he is probably well-suited as a second-team QB to spell the starter when circumstances warrant. Frankly, anything will be better than having to sit through a game holding your breath when Palko is leading the offense.
Somebody better clue in Todd Haley, though. He still insists that Palko is his starting quarterback. So you can expect to see Palko taking the ball Sunday against the Bears, Orton's former team. Don't ask me to explain that decision, because I can't. Nor can anyone else outside of the Chiefs' organization.
Oh, well, Haley and his new starter will probably both be moving on soon. If you've been listening to the sports talk radio shows this week, you know what of I speak.
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