NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 4 MIN at KC

KANSAS CITY -- As he was flanked by reporters in the visitors' locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night, peppered with questions about his time in Kansas City, Matt Cassel seemed less interested in rehashing what went wrong than nearly anyone else in the room.

To Chiefs fans, Cassel's time in Kansas City represents a failed experiment, which began with the team trading for the quarterback and signing him to a six-year deal in 2009 and ended, at least symbolically, with fans cheering Cassel's concussion in a home game. That experience seasoned the Vikings-Chiefs preseason game with a heavy dose of the Cassel-gets-redemption storyline, as he returned to Kansas City once again poised to claim a NFL starting quarterback job.

Matt Cassel
Ed Zurga/Associated PressMatt Cassel's return to Kansas City was a good one, as he gained further control of Minnesota's starting quarterback race.
The 32-year-old quarterback wasn't officially awarded the job on Saturday night -- though the Vikings operated as though he'd be their starter on Sept. 7 -- and even if he had, he probably wouldn't have found much reason to boast about it. He said again on Saturday night he had "no ill will" toward the Chiefs, who cut him after the 2012 season, pointing out that all three of his children were born in Kansas City and mentioning the close friends he still had in town. Still, his long touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson in the first quarter had to carry some extra meaning, didn't it?

"It was a great way to start the game, there's no doubt about it," Cassel said. "To come in here and get going, we were backed up on our own three, and then to be able to get going like that and hit a long play, it was great."

That's about the most Cassel will let on about what the game meant to him, and there's not much reason he should be anything but diplomatic about his exit from Kansas City. He didn't perform well enough to play out a contract that would have paid him more than $62 million, and he rightly pointed out things would have been different if he and the Chiefs had won a few more games.

"I've been in it long enough to know that if you don't win, normally, they make changes," he said. "They did, and I was really happy to see they had a lot of success."

Cassel has been able to move on, too, and it seems he'll at least begin the season with the starting job. Officially, the Vikings' quarterback competition is ongoing, but when Cassel throws 17 passes, Teddy Bridgewater throws seven in just over a quarter of work, and Christian Ponder again doesn't play, the pecking order seems clear. Cassel's performance on Saturday night might have actually been his worst of the preseason; he hit the long touchdown to Patterson -- on a play the receiver said has typically gone to Greg Jennings in practice -- lofted a pretty sideline throw to Jennings and could have had better numbers if not for a couple drops, but he forced a deep throw to Jerome Simpson for an interception and could have been picked off on an out route to Jennings.

He's got the arm to play in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, as he's demonstrated by a number of downfield throws this preseason, but he'll also get burned by taking some chances at times. He's only had two seasons -- his breakout year of 2008 and his Pro Bowl season of 2010 -- where he's averaged less than an interception per game. Still, Cassel has done a solid job of running the Vikings' offense in the preseason without Adrian Peterson, and it'd be a surprise not to see him start when the Vikings return to Missouri on Sept. 7 against the Rams.

If his continued work as the Vikings' starting quarterback on the other side of the state -- and in his former home stadium -- gave him a sense of payback on Saturday, Cassel wasn't showing it. Perhaps his experience the last time he was in this position helped him to appreciate it more than to flaunt it.

"I love Kansas City," Cassel said. "At the same time, football sometimes just doesn't always work out the way you want it to. There's a multitude of reasons behind that, and I wish we could have changed a lot of that -- mainly the outcome of just winning more ballgames."

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The starting offense for the Kansas City Chiefs still can't finish a drive. The starters failed to score a touchdown in eight possessions in what would become a 30-12 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs even had the ball inside the Minnesota 20 three times but came away with just a field goal and two Alex Smith interceptions. The starting offense hasn't scored a touchdown in 16 preseason possessions.

Here are some other thoughts on the Chiefs' third preseason game of the year:
  • The starting defense similarly doesn't look ready for the regular season. The Chiefs allowed pass plays of 31 and 53 yards on Minnesota's first possession. The Chiefs again played without safety Eric Berry, who has an injured heel. His replacement is Daniel Sorensen, an undrafted rookie. Sorensen took a bad angle on the 53-yard touchdown pass.
  • Smith threw only seven interceptions all of last season. He's built his career on being able to protect the ball. So when he throws two red zone interceptions, one on first down, it's disturbing. On the first interception, Smith tried to force a throw for Frankie Hammond Jr. On the second he stared down his intended receiver, Travis Kelce. Perhaps the pressure of a touchdown-less preseason is wearing on Smith.
  • The Chiefs are still trying to solidify their starting offensive line in wake of right tackle Donald Stephenson's season-opening suspension. Left guard Jeff Allen started in Stephenson's place. The Chiefs rotated by series Jeff Linkenbach and Ricky Henry at left guard. Allen played tackle in college at Illinois and got some work there this year in training camp. Stephenson will miss the first four games of the season because of NFL suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
  • Quarterback Tyler Bray rebounded from a slow start to lead the Chiefs to their only touchdown. Bray's first pass was intercepted, but he completed his final seven passes, the last one going to rookie Albert Wilson for a 1-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left. Bray finished 9-of-15 for 85 yards.
  • Running back Jamaal Charles dressed for the game but -- wisely on the part of the Chiefs -- he did not play. After missing two straight games because of what the Chiefs are calling a bruised foot, Charles could play in Thursday night's final preseason game against the Packers in Green Bay.

KANSAS CITY -- The Minnesota Vikings got what was probably their final realistic look at their defensive overhaul on Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium, and while the performance from their first team in 2 1/2 quarters wasn't perfect, the Vikings did some things that have to make coach Mike Zimmer happy.

The pressure they put on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in a 30-12 victory was particularly impressive; the Vikings sacked Smith three times and had a couple more opportunities where he slipped out of a defender's grasp just before a sack. Everson Griffen was again active, Brian Robison chimed in with some solid pressure and each had a half-sack. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson got after the quarterback in the Vikings' nickel rush package, and Anthony Barr knocked down a pass when he and Captain Munnerlyn came through on a blitz. The Vikings also stiffened up in the red zone twice, with Munnerlyn and linebacker Chad Greenway making instinctive plays to pick off Smith.

There were still things to be concerned about -- the Vikings' linebackers struggled in pass coverage, and with no Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs didn't exactly present a formidable test. But the Vikings' third preseason game -- ostensibly their most realistic test before the regular season -- confirmed some signs of progress on defense.

Here are some other thoughts on the Vikings' third preseason game of the year:
  • By the time Teddy Bridgewater entered the game, the Vikings had played nearly three full quarters and their first-team offense was finished for the night. All that seems left of the Vikings' quarterback race is an official announcement. Matt Cassel wasn't perfect on Saturday -- he went 9-for-17 for 152 yards and a touchdown, but forced a first-down throw for Jerome Simpson into double coverage late in the first half. He was intercepted there, and should have had another pass picked off. Still, Cassel connected on a long throw to Cordarrelle Patterson for a touchdown and made perhaps his best throw of the night on a tough sideline pass to Greg Jennings, fitting the ball between two defenders (though Jennings didn't get his second foot down in time). While Cassel is far from perfect, his job status doesn't appear to be in question.
  • What Cassel will have to hope for, however, is better pass protection than he had Saturday. He was sacked three times, and left tackle Matt Kalil -- whose quickness is supposed to be his forte -- was beaten around the edge on a speed rush by Tamba Hali. Phil Loadholt also left with an injury in the first quarter, and before he came back, undrafted free agent Austin Wentworth was beaten by Jaye Howard, who forced a fumble that went out of the end zone for a safety. Loadholt returned to the game, but whether he's healthy or not, it wouldn't hurt the Vikings to look for a veteran swing tackle.
  • The line did do a nice job on Jerick McKinnon's 24-yard run in the third quarter, with Wentworth and Brandon Fusco blocking down and Charlie Johnson pulling around the right side to set the edge. We'll see more pulling guards than we saw in the Vikings' old scheme (and center John Sullivan will do it, too), and the technique was used to great effect there.
  • After a rare muffed punt return by Marcus Sherels, wide receiver Adam Thielen might have secured his roster spot with his biggest play of the preseason. Thielen showed good vision and patience on a 75-yard return, bouncing off a tackle and waiting for his blockers before he surged around the right side, getting tackled at the 5-yard line. The return set up Bridgewater's second touchdown pass of the night to Allen Reisner.
  • The Vikings started Chris Crocker at safety opposite Harrison Smith and used Robert Blanton with the first team as well. On the other side of the safety competition, Jamarca Sanford left again with an injury, this time to his quadriceps, and Andrew Sendejo dropped what would have been an interception in the fourth quarter.




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