- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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KANSAS CITY -- It is officially dump Matt Cassel season in Kansas City.
Cassel has never been overly popular in Kansas City. The Chiefs’ playoff-hungry fan base has wished their team were in the hands of a more dynamic quarterback ever since Tom Brady’s injury replacement came to Kansas City along with general manager Scott Pioli in 2009.
My mailbag was flooded by Kansas City fans demanding Cassel’s benching Sunday, and I’m sure the subject will be the main course for columnists and talk radio in the Heartland in the wake of an embarrassing offensive showing by the Chiefs in a 37-20 defeat to San Diego on Sunday.
Expect pressure on Cassel to grow until he is either removed as the team’s quarterback or the team decides to move away from him after the season.
Much was expected from Kansas City this year, but with a quarter of the season over, playoff hopes are starting to fade as Cassel and the Chiefs are now 1-3. The Chiefs have been outscored 41-6 in the first quarter, they haven’t scored a touchdown on their opening drive since the 2010 season and they are the only team this season never to play with the lead.
After an inspired overtime win at New Orleans in Week 3, the Chiefs had the chance to tie San Diego for first in the AFC West. But Kansas City quickly showed themselves, the Chargers and their antsy fans that they were not ready to become a first-place team. Kansas City, which finished with six turnovers, committed three turnovers in the first quarter and trailed 17-0. Cassel threw three interceptions as the Chiefs were suffocated by a much improved, dangerous San Diego defense.
The truth is that the Chiefs' offensive line gave Cassel little time to work and Kansas City’s running backs lost three fumbles, including two by beloved running back Jamaal Charles.
Kansas City right tackle Eric Winston said Sunday's poor performance was a failure by all 11 offensive players. He also believes “a couple” of Chiefs will likely take the brunt from the media. While Winston didn’t say Cassel’s name, it's clear he's expecting to hear calls for Cassel’s removal.
Winston is right. It has already started. Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel was asked after the game if he is considering a quarterback change, and Cassel was asked about it in his media session that lasted less than 90 seconds Sunday. Crennel said he is not considering a change. He said he stuck with Charles despite his fumbles and he is sticking with his quarterback.
I spoke to former Kansas City running back Jackie Battle about Cassel, and he expects it to be a tough week for his former teammate.
“I don’t think people were always fair to Matt (in Kansas City),” Battle said. “I like Matt. He can do a lot of things. He was my leader when I was with the Chiefs.”
San Diego safety Eric Weddle said he thinks Cassel is “super athletic” and capable of winning games, but he acknowledged that falling behind 20-0 is tough on any quarterback.
“Next week, he will come out and be great and he will silence the critics,” Weddle said. “That’s the way it is with quarterbacks.”
I think Crennel believes that and that’s why he is sticking with Cassel. Here’s another reason why Crennel won’t make a move: Who would be Cassel’s replacement? The basis of any position change -- especially one as colossal as quarterback -- is the belief in the replacement.
If you think so, you’re fooling yourself, but rational thinking is often thrown out the door when a team hasn’t won a playoff game in 19 years.
If Cassel is pulled this early in the season, it will be a shame. He is the only quarterback available who gives this team a chance to win. He hasn’t been awful this season. Yes, he had a poor showing Sunday. But so did the rest of the offense. This offense was the No. 1-ranked offense in the NFL through three weeks and Cassel was a big reason why the Chiefs won at New Orleans. After Week 3, Cassel was a respectable No. 16 in ESPN’s Total QBR.
Teams bench quarterbacks when they are completely lost. Cassel is not lost. He is just not good enough right now to be the difference-maker, a reason why this could be his last season in Kansas City.
The Chiefs have the makings of a good program and they have a lot of talent. If they don’t make the playoffs and Cassel’s play doesn’t improve, I’m sure the team will seriously consider making a move and drafting a quarterback.
That is fair. If Cassel can win this year, then wait to make the change. The Chiefs decided to build around him this year. If it doesn’t work, it’s time to pull the plug on him. Just don’t do it now.
I think Pioli should have his scouts jump inside USC QB Matt Barkley’s mind. They must find out everything they can about West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson and Tennessee’s Tyler Bray.
It’s definitely time for the Chiefs to be thinking about a different quarterback for the future other than Cassel. But the future is not now.