- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the weirdest quarterback seasons in AFC West history has taken another strange twist Wednesday.
Kyle Orton is going directly from the bench in Denver to the huddle in Kansas City as the Chiefs clearly think they can stay in the divisional playoff race.
This division has seen Tebowmania. It has seen Philip Rivers have his worst NFL season. It has seen Jason Campbell go down in a heap and the Raiders responding by giving up two premium picks to get Carson Palmer off the couch.
The Chiefs jumped on Denver’s decision to say goodbye to its former starter. Expect the Chiefs to quickly try to get Orton on the field. They did not assume the final $2.5 million of his deal to keep him on the bench.
It may be too much to ask for Orton (who missed practice in Kansas City on Wednesday) to join the team and start Sunday night against visiting Pittsburgh. However, he could be available in an emergency situation before taking over in December.
I’d expect Tyler Palko to make his second NFL start Sunday and then give way to Orton. Palko was 25-of-38 passing for 236 yards in a 34-3 loss at New England. He threw three interceptions. Palko was named the starter when Matt Cassel was lost for the season in Week 10 – against Denver – with a broken hand.
I’m sure the Chiefs were ready to roll with Palko as their starter and Ricky Stanzi (who now becomes the No. 3 quarterback again) as the backup. But when Orton became available, the Chiefs took advantage of the rare opportunity of picking up a healthy, experienced veteran this late in the season.
Ironically, Orton will likely make his first start Dec. 4 at Chicago. The Bears and Dallas (likely in an attempt to keep Orton from the Bears) made a claim on Orton. He was awarded to the Chiefs because they had claiming priority.
The Bears wanted Orton because starter Jay Cutler will be out for several weeks with a broken thumb. In another twist in this story of many twists, Orton was traded from Chicago to Denver in 2009 in a package for Cutler.
Give credit to Kansas City for snagging Orton. It shows the team is not ready to lay down the rest of the season. The Chiefs, who have been battered by injuries all season, have lost three straight games to drop to 4-6. Plus the Chiefs, who are two games behind AFC West-leading Oakland, have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL.
Still, they jumped at the chance to spend some money and get better.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said he liked the Chiefs’ gumption.
“He is certainly an improvement and very familiar with the division,” Williamson said. “Seems like a bit of a desperation move from guys that might be on the hot seat, but, I guess, I can’t condemn it too much. He fits their offense as they run first and then he can take some shots to [Dwayne] Bowe.”
It may be a stretch to think Orton will be enough to push the staggering Chiefs back into the race. But he is a professional passer who has some decent weapons to throw to. Thus, the Chiefs will be better with Orton than without him. Maybe Orton is the missing link in Kansas City. After all, who could have predicted anything that has happened in this division this season?
6dEric D. Williams