NFL Nation: Tyler Palko

The idea of getting a second chance has long driven Romeo Crennel.

Getting back in the head-coaching chair he fought so long and hard to get into in the first place, has fueled Crennel -- long respected as one of the NFL’s best defensive minds -- since he was fired as the head coach in Cleveland in 2008 after four seasons.

[+] EnlargeRomeo Crennel
Denny Medley/US PresswireRomeo Crennel completed his stint as the Chiefs' interim coach with a 2-1 record, including a win against the unbeaten Packers.
Now that he has secured that second chance, Crennel said he hasn’t had much time to reflect on the opportunity. He is too busy diving into his role as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Time spent congratulating himself on achieving his goal would be time wasted.

“I have 1,000 things to do to get this thing going,” Crennel said. “This is an opportunity that I want to take advantage of … I am happy to get that second chance and there were times I didn’t think it would happen.”

Thus, when the door opened for Crennel, his determination to earn a second chance was evident. Crennel, who took a season off after being fired in Cleveland, became the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator in 2010. When he was named the interim coach after the Chiefs fired Todd Haley with three games remaining this season, there was talk Crennel had a chance to become the permanent coach.

In Crennel’s first game as the head coach, the Chiefs knocked off the Packers. It was Green Bay’s only loss of the regular season. After losing in overtime at home to the Raiders in Week 16, the Chiefs won in Denver in a game the Broncos could have clinched the division title outright with a win. Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity.

Kansas City conducted some other interviews after the season, but the inevitable happened Jan. 9 when Crennel officially got his second chance. At the age of 64, Crennel wasn’t exactly counting on being a head coach again. He is now the second-oldest active head coach in the NFL behind the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin, who is 65.

Now that he has received his second chance, Crennel is determined to prove he isn’t another name in the “good coordinator, bad head coach” bin.

Crennel, who was bypassed by six teams in 2003 after interviewing for head-coaching jobs when he was the Patriots' defensive coordinator, was 24-40 in Cleveland. The Browns did go 10-6 in 2007 under Crennel, but didn’t make the playoffs.

“We had a 10-win season there and I knew we did some good things there,” Crennel said. “I want to prove what we can do given this opportunity.”

Crennel said he has already applied lessons learned in Cleveland in his short time in Kansas City. Crennel’s first act as the interim coach was to replace quarterback Tyler Palko with Kyle Orton. Crennel struggled with a quarterback controversy in Cleveland between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. He was determined to avoid one this time.

Another reason Crennel is fueled for his second chance is he knows he is in a better situation. He acknowledged that the talented Chiefs’ roster is better than the roster he inherited in Cleveland.

“This is a passionate group of players,” Crennel said. ”We want to develop a good team chemistry and we think we have a good nucleus here.”

It starts with Crennel. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt has said one of the reasons he hired Crennel is his competitive nature. Hunt was impressed when Crennel told him he wanted to be the Chiefs’ head coach because he wanted to win the Super Bowl.

If the performance of the Chiefs' players under Crennel in the final three games of the season is any indication, they are ready to make a Super Bowl run under Crennel’s guidance.

“I represent four players on the team,” said Joe Linta, Crennel’s agent. “All four of them are thrilled that Romeo got the job. His players love him.”

Crennel is known for his genial way and his patience. Crennel is a steady hand, who is always there for an encouraging word. His four Super Bowl rings (one with the Giants and three with the Patriots) earned as an assistant coach doesn’t hurt his credibility, either.

“I’ve been very fortune to be around some great players and great coaches like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick,” Crennel said. “I have had a long history and I wouldn’t change anything as I prepare for this job.”

There is a strong chance this will be Crennel’s final job. It has been an incredible journey for the Lynchburg, Va., native who played offensive and defensive lineman at Western Kentucky. As he begins his second chance, Crennel reflected on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday this week. Crennel was a 20-year-old college student when King was killed.

“It was an emotional time.” Crennel said. “As a minority, I was worried about the progress Dr. King made would be stopped because of his death, but the movement kept going and I’m sure he would be very proud of it. I’m pleased it kept going and I’m very appreciative of every chance I’ve gotten because of his hard work.”
For the second straight day, Kansas City quarterback Kyle Orton was limited in practice by a finger injury. Interim Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel said Orton will start Sunday against 13-0 Green Bay if he is healthy.

Orton said Wednesday he is fine. He hurt his index finger on his throwing hand while making his only throw as a Chief on Dec. 4 against Chicago. If Orton isn’t ready, rookie Ricky Stanzi will play. At this point, though, it seems Orton will get the chance to play barring a setback.

Thursday, according to the Kansas City Star, Crennel said Orton will “probably” start Sunday and that the quarterback has “weathered the storm pretty good.”

Tyler Palko is now the No. 3 quarterback. He started the past four games for Kansas City after Matt Cassel suffered a season-ending hand injury. Former coach Todd Haley, who was fired Monday, stuck with Palko despite the fact he has thrown seven interceptions compared to two touchdown passes. The switch away from Palko was made quickly after Haley was fired.

Meanwhile, receiver Jonathan Baldwin and cornerback Javier Arenas didn’t practice Thursday due to illness.

Chiefs make the right call at QB

December, 14, 2011
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Earlier Wednesday, we broached the Kansas City Chiefs' chances of making a move at quarterback.

Orton
Palko
The fact that the Chiefs are beginning the post-Todd Haley era without starting quarterback Tyler Palko makes perfect sense. Interim coach Romeo Crennel said Kyle Orton will start Sunday against Green Bay if he is healthy. If not, 2011 fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi will get a shot. Thus, the Tyler Palko era appears to be over.

There were rumblings that Haley’s insistence on sticking with the struggling Palko for four starts was one of the final straws in the Chiefs’ decision to fire him Monday. Palko took over for the injured Matt Cassel, who is out for the rest of the season with a hand injury.

Palko started two games after the team claimed Orton and the remaining $2.5 million on his contract in November. Orton was in for one play -- a flea flicker -- in his second game. He injured a finger on his throwing hand and hasn’t played since. However, the Kansas City Star reported Orton was throwing the ball well in practice Wednesday.

So, expect Orton to get the nod for the rest of the season if he doesn’t suffer a setback. Stanzi will be his backup.

I thought Orton should have started against Chicago in his second game with the Chiefs. He is the best quarterback on the active roster and he gives the team a chance to compete.

This is the right call.

It also sets up an intriguing revenge game for Orton. The Chiefs play at Denver in Week 17 on New Year’s Day. The Broncos, who replaced Orton with Tim Tebow after five games, may need to win that game to claim the division title. You think Orton wouldn’t be motivated that day?

Also, Orton is a free agent at the end of the season, so this three-game stretch gives him a chance to audition to both the Chiefs -- as Crennel is doing -- and other teams in the league.

If Stanzi gets a chance to play, it will further help him make a push to be the No. 2 quarterback next year. Expect Palko’s days as a Chief to be over. He threw two touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season.

Wrap-up: Jets 37, Chiefs 10

December, 11, 2011
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Some quick thoughts following the Kansas City Chiefs' 37-10 loss to the New York Jets.

What it means: The Chiefs’ are virtually out of the playoff discussion. They are now 5-8. After going 10-6 and winning the AFC West last year, Kansas City is now looking forward to 2012.

Another blowout: This was Kansas City’s fifth loss of at least 27 points this season. For those looking for Todd Haley to lose his job, that is ammunition. However, the undermanned Chiefs had been playing fairly tough in recent games.

Palko is just OK: In his fourth NFL start, Kansas City quarterback Tyler Palko completed 16-of-32 passes for 195 yards. He threw a late touchdown and he was intercepted once.

Defense slides: Kansas City's defense had been playing very well but it had a tough time Sunday. The Jets ran the ball down the Chiefs’ throats with 159 yards on the ground.

What’s next: It does not get any easier. The Chiefs host Green Bay in Week 15. Kansas City has the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets lead the Kansas City Chiefs, 28-3, at intermission.

Here are some notes at halftime:
  • With the game already in hand, the biggest news is the injury to Jets starting safety Jim Leonhard. He injured his right knee following a second-quarter interception when his leg was twisted on the tackle. He was unable to put any weight on his knee and was carted to the sideline. Leonhard won't return in this game. The Jets may have to play without him for an extended period.
  • Jets running back Shonn Greene is having a good game. Green’s first carry went for 31 yards. He has 67 yards rushing, 58 yards receiving and a touchdown. Greene now has four touchdowns in his last two games.
  • The Jets are confusing Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko. New York has kept players in his face all first half and has three sacks. The Jets also rushed Palko into a key interception to Leonhard that led to a second-quarter touchdown. Palko is 3 of 8 for 11 yards and the turnover.
  • New York (7-5) isn't getting much help in the wild-card chase. The Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) hold the final wild-card spot and lead the Houston Texans, 16-3, at halftime.

Wrap-up: Chiefs 10, Bears 3

December, 4, 2011
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A look at an impressive 10-3 win for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Chicago Bears:

What it means: The Chiefs are now 5-7. They trail Denver and Oakland, both 7-5, by two games in the AFC West race. They lead San Diego, 4—7, by a half game. San Diego plays at Jacksonville on Monday night. The win snapped a four-game Kansas City losing streak. Maybe the Chiefs’ strange season trend will continue. The Chiefs have been a team of streaks all season. They started the season, 0-3, then won four straight games and then lost four straight games.

Big play: The lone touchdown of the game was on a crazy 38-yard pass from Tyler Palko to Dexter McCluster at the end of the first half. It was deflected twice.

Palko gets first win: Palko got his first NFL win. He was 0-2 in his first two starts. Palko was 17 of 30 for 157 yards. Most importantly, he did not throw an interception. He was picked off six times in his first two NFL starts.

Short stint for Orton: Quarterback Kyle Orton spelled Palko for one play. He hurt his finger on his first and only pass as a Chief. Kansas City coach Todd Haley had no update on Orton’s injury after the game. With Orton dealing with an injury and Palko coming off a win, I could see Palko getting more time.

Houston, we don’t have a problem: Kansas City rookie Justin Houston was spectacular as he had three sacks. Kansas City had seven sacks on the day.

Good defense: The Kansas City defense has played well recently and it had another big day with three interceptions Sunday. Give defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel credit for putting together a strong group.

What’s next: The Chiefs, who entered Week 13 tied for the toughest remaining schedule in the league, play at the New York Jets on Sunday.

Tyler Palko is playing for Chiefs

December, 4, 2011
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Even though Kyle Orton worked some with the first team in warm-ups at Chicago on Sunday, Tyler Palko started his third straight game for Kansas City.

Kansas City coach Todd Haley said Palko would start. However, Orton, who was claimed off waivers last month from Denver, did get about 40 percent of the practice repetitions this past week.

It will be interesting to see if Orton will play some Sunday. Palko has thrown six interceptions in two starts. Kansas City starter Matt Cassel is out for the year with a broken hand.

Palko, not Orton, gets call in K.C.

December, 2, 2011
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Kansas City coach Todd Haley said Tyler Palko will start Sunday at quarterback at Chicago instead of Kyle Orton.

I think the only reason this makes sense is if Orton just doesn’t have the Chiefs’ offense down yet. Orton has said he is ready; he has been with the Chiefs for a week after being claimed off waivers from Denver.

I think if Orton is ready, he needs to play. The Chiefs picked up the remaining $2.5 million on his contract; Orton is a free agent at the end of the year. Orton should be in Kansas City to play, not back up Palko. Palko has thrown six interceptions in two starts playing for Matt Cassel, who is out with a broken hand. Haley said Orton could play against the Bears, but he was far from committal about it.

“We’ve had to prepare Orton to get ready to play and he may have to, but he may not,” Haley told reporters. “We’re really focused on how we want to start this game and we know what we need to do.”

Meanwhile, Kansas City offensive coordinator Bill Muir said Jared Gaither wasn’t as physical or as explosive as he was with the Ravens. The Chiefs cut the offensive lineman – who missed all of last season with a back injury – this week. San Diego claimed him. Gaither could play for the Chargers on Monday night at Jacksonville.

In other AFC West news:

Rolando McClain’s high school does not want him to attend its basketball game Friday night. The Oakland linebacker was arrested this week on assault charges in his hometown of Decatur, Ala. I wonder if the Raiders will feel the same way about their game in Miami on Sunday?

Final Word: NFC North

December, 2, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 13:

Closing in: The Green Bay Packers have a great chance to clinch a playoff spot Sunday, regardless of what happens in their game at the New York Giants. (It can happen with a Packers victory, or a loss by one of the following teams: the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions or the Atlanta Falcons.) The Packers can also clinch the NFC North with a victory combined with a Lions loss to the New Orleans Saints. Even if they lose to the Giants, losses by the Lions and Bears this weekend would hand the division to the Packers. And then the real fun begins. The Packers' next goal would be to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and, possibly, a 16-0 regular season.

History: The Giants have lost three consecutive games and aren't expected to have defensive end Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee) for this game. The Packers, meanwhile, have won 17 consecutive games, including the playoffs. But optimism in New York for an upset has centered, in part, on the Giants' history in such situations. On three occasions, the Giants have snapped an opponent's winning streak of 18 or more games. They beat the New England Patriots in 2004, the Denver Broncos in 1998 and the Chicago Bears in 1934. With that said, nothing has happened lately to suggest that these Giants are in position to make it a fourth time -- other than the fact that previous incarnations of their teams have pulled it off.

Must win: Let's be blunt: If the Bears want to participate in the 2011 postseason, they'll need to beat the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field. The Chiefs have lost four consecutive games and are expected to start quarterback Tyler Palko, who has thrown six interceptions in the Chiefs' past two games. The other alternative is former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, who has spent a week with the team. The Bears are 5-1 and are averaging 31.3 points per game at home this season, their only loss coming in Week 3 to the Packers. There is a general assumption that quarterback Caleb Hanie will settle down for his second NFL start, but the Chiefs' poor perimeter run defense could help tailback Matt Forte gobble up yards outside the tackles. (The Chiefs are allowing 5.7 yards per rush outside the tackles.) No matter how it happens, the Bears can't afford a loss Sunday.

Tough to win: As we noted earlier Friday, the Lions will have their work cut out for them Sunday night in stopping the New Orleans Saints' offense, which is particularly explosive at the Superdome. To be fair, it's worth noting that the Lions have a decent opportunity to score against the Saints' risk-taking defense. The Saints are giving up the sixth-most passing yards per game in the NFL this season (253.7) and have only six interceptions, tied for the second-lowest in the league. The fractured right index finger of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has healed, and the Lions at least have the capacity to exchange blows in a shootout.

Defending Tebow: The Minnesota Vikings' beleaguered secondary will get something of a break this week against Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. The Vikings will be without four of the top five defensive backs they opened the season with, and on Sunday rookie Mistral Raymond will make his first NFL start. But the Broncos rarely throw downfield with Tebow and instead focus on their option running game. The Vikings will need to pay particular attention when Tebow is in the spread formation; the Broncos are averaging 6.5 yards per rush and have five rushing touchdowns when Tebow is in the shotgun.

AFC West Stock Watch

November, 29, 2011
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City, receiver: The Pro Bowl receiver has taken heat for appearing not to make an effort to catch a pass in the final seconds of a 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night. It was intercepted, thus ending the game. Bowe’s effort has been questioned in the past. He is a free agent after the season. The Chiefs have been aggressive in re-signing their own players. It is interesting that Bowe has not been re-signed. Plays like this may be a reason why.

2. Philip Rivers’ season: It just doesn’t seem like the San Diego quarterback is going to have a turnaround that will help change his team’s season. Rivers didn’t make any killer mistakes Sunday against Denver, but he was unable to be a positive difference-maker, either.

3. Rivers’ protection: A big reason Rivers has been unable to be a positive difference-maker is he is getting pounded. The Chargers are without six offensive linemen. They are playing players who are bottom-of-the-roster types. Rivers will be lucky if he stays upright.

RISING

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesTim Tebow rallied the Broncos to a victory Sunday over the Chargers.
1. Hue Jackson, Oakland, coach: The Raiders’ first-year head coach was getting heat when the Raiders dropped back-to-back home games to Kansas City and Denver and fell to 4-4. There was talk that the honeymoon was over for Jackson. However, Oakland has won three straight games and is looking like a strong playoff contender. Jackson deserves credit for righting the ship.

2. Denver’s playoff chances: Even if the Raiders win the division, the Broncos are in the playoff mix. Denver is 6-5 and trails Oakland by a game in the AFC West race. Denver is also a game off the pace for an AFC wild-card spot. Yes folks, it is very feasible that this division places two teams in the playoffs.

3. Kyle Orton, Kansas City, quarterback: A week ago, Orton was a rusty player on Denver’s bench, shrinking in the shadow of Tim Tebow. Now, Orton is in Kansas City and will likely start Sunday at Chicago. Denver gave him a chance to play again by waiving him last week and Kansas City jumped at the chance to have a veteran option instead of the inexperienced Tyler Palko in light of Matt Cassel’s season-ending injury. Now, Orton will have a five-game audition for the entire league. He is a free agent after the season.

Wrap-up: Steelers 13, Chiefs 9

November, 28, 2011
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A look at a hard fight by the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: The Chiefs are 4-7 after a 13-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are tied for last place in the AFC West with the San Diego Chargers. The Chiefs trail the first-place Oakland Raiders, 7-4, by three games. The banged-up Chiefs very likely will not defend their AFC West title. Kansas City has now lost four straight games after winning four in a row.

Palko’s last stand: As he did in his first NFL start, in a 31-point loss at New England, Tyler Palko had his moments. Yet, he threw three interceptions for the second straight game. Expect Kansas City to try to get newly clamed Kyle Orton ready to start at Chicago next week.

The heat is on Bowe: Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe was roasted by NBC announcer Chris Collinsworth after not trying to go after a pass in the final seconds of the game. The ball was intercepted. He is a free agent and this is another example of the dilemma surrounding Bowe. He has his moments when he shines, but his effort has often been questioned.

Kansas City defense plays well: The Chiefs’ defense played very hard Sunday. It kept the Chiefs in the game.

What’s next: The Chiefs’ brutal stretch continues when it plays at the Chicago Bears on Sunday. The Chiefs have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. Expect the Chiefs to insert Orton in practice quickly and try to have him ready to play his former team. Ironically, the Bears claimed Orton as well (as did the Dallas Cowboys) but the Chiefs were awarded him because they have the worst record of the three teams.

Wrap-up: Steelers 13, Chiefs 9

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
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Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 13-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: The Steelers survived a last-minute comeback by the Chiefs to improve to 8-3 and remain tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North (Baltimore holds the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh because it swept the Steelers). It wasn't an impressive win for the Steelers, which was held to a season-worst 13 points. Pittsburgh looked rusty coming off its 10-day break but it's now 14-9 after byes.

Fourth-quarter stop: For its second straight game, Pittsburgh needed an interception late in the fourth quarter to seal the win. This time it was Keenan Lewis who caught an overthrown pass from an overmatched Tyler Palko. Before the turnover, the Chiefs were making the Steelers sweat, driving to the Pittsburgh 37 with with 38 seconds left.

Turnover time: The Steelers nearly matched their season total in turnovers in one game, thanks to the lapses by Palko. Pittsburgh finished with four takeaways (three interceptions and one fumble recovery) after entering this game with an NFL-low six in its first 10 games. The Steelers converted 10 points off turnovers.

Injury concern: Pittsburgh played most of the game without two Pro Bowl players. Safety Troy Polamalu left in the first quarter after taking a blow to the head, and center Maurkice Pouncey came out of the game with an illness in the second quarter. Both didn't return. Ryan Mundy, Polamalu's replacement, made an interception in the second quarter that led to the game's only touchdown.

Out of the zone: One reason why the game was so close was Pittsburgh's struggles in the red zone. The Steelers have scored one touchdown despite being inside the Chiefs' 10-yard line three times. On Pittsburgh's opening drive, Mike Wallace dropped a pass in the end zone and Mewelde Moore fumbled at the Kansas City 2.

Thumbs up or down?: In his first full game since fracturing his right thumb, Ben Roethlisberger completed 21 of 31 passes (67.7 percent), which was his fourth-highest completion rate this season. But he was held to a season-low 193 yards passing. He also had one touchdown and one interception.

What's next: The Ravens return home to play the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4).

Kyle Orton not in K.C. yet

November, 24, 2011
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Kyle Orton did not make it to Kansas City in time to take his physical and get on the practice field, according to the Kansas City Star.

Orton
The paper cited family issues delayed Orton’s travel from Denver. The Chiefs practiced early on Thursday, a day after Kansas City claimed him off waivers. I wouldn’t take this as a sign Orton is unhappy he's a Chief. I think it is merely a logistical situation. Orton has already indicated he is excited to be a Chief.

I didn’t think there was any way Orton was going to play Sunday night against visiting Pittsburgh and this development all but makes a certainty. Expect Tyler Palko to make his second straight start for the Chiefs as they adjust to playing without Matt Cassel, who broke his hand and is out for the season.

Expect Orton to make his Kansas City debut at Chicago (yes, the same team that put a claim in on him and the same team he started his career with) on Dec. 4.
Now that Kyle Orton will finish the season as the Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback, does Matt Cassel have anything to worry about going into next year?

Well, he has more to worry about than he would had Tyler Palko remained his replacement.

I still think the Chiefs are committed to Cassel – who is out for the year with a broken hand -- for next season. But what if Orton clicks with the offense and leads the Chiefs to the playoffs? I guess all bets would be off.

Orton is a free agent at the end of the season, so he is auditioning for the entire league. If he builds a good thing in Kansas City, I could see the Chiefs being open to keeping him.

I do believe the current thinking is simply to have Orton play this year. The chance to get the experienced Orton for the rest of the season was the team’s primary motivation when the Chiefs claimed him Wednesday. Denver put him on waivers Tuesday.

But I’m sure the Chiefs will keep an open mind toward the future, especially since Orton and Cassel are fairly comparable players.

How does Orton’s presence affect Palko and Ricky Stanzi? I don’t think it affects Stanzi, the team’s fifth-round pick this year, at all. He is a project and he wasn’t going to play this season regardless. As for Palko, he is a low-level backup. He’ll play if Orton gets hurt, but the Chiefs had a chance to upgrade and they took it.

If Orton does leave Kansas City as a free agent, the Chiefs could get a compensatory pick for him in 2013, depending on how the rest of the team’s 2012 free agency develops.

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