For the Kansas City Chiefs as a whole, Sunday was an absolute ridiculous and embarrassing shellacking at the hands of the Denver Broncos where even the 49-29 final score was much closer than the game actually was.
For quarterback Matt Cassel and leading-receiver Dwayne Bowe, though, the game was somewhat of a coming-out party, statistically-speaking, at least. Cassel threw for a career-high 469 yards, and Bowe set career-highs for receptions (13) and receiving yards (186). Cassel finished the game with four touchdown passes — two to Bowe — and no interceptions.
Judging by statistics alone, it was by far the tandem's best performance together as members of the Chiefs. Judging by the stat that matters most — wins and losses — it meant nothing.
The Broncos, feasting on a banged-up Chiefs' secondary (safeties Kendrick Lewis and Jon McGraw were both inactive), scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and never looked back. The score was 35-0 with two minutes left in the first-half. Most of Cassel and Bowe's damage came in the second-half with the game out of hand.
Just two weeks ago, the Chiefs were sitting at 5-2 with an unstoppable rushing-attack, and were looking ahead to two-consecutive divisional matchups where victories in each would all but secure a 2010 AFC West division title. Cassel and Bowe had yet to face any real pressure to win games on their own.
Now, after losses to the Raiders and Broncos, respectively, the team is 5-4 and out of first-place for the first time all season. The run-game looks flawed, to say the least, and in back-to-back games Cassel and Bowe have failed to pick the team up when it needed them most.
In Oakland, the tandem was inconsistent at best, and for most fans after that game, the recurring image was of Bowe dropping a very-catchable third-down pass with two minutes left, where a completion meant a Chiefs' victory.*
*The drop is more or less the perfect symbolism for Bowe's career as a Chief to date.
In Denver, the tandem looked sharp, but that was mainly during second-half garbage-time. In the first-half, when the game was decided, the offense failed to get on the board until late in the second quarter, and the half was highlighted by a Cassel sack/fumble in the redzone that was returned 75 yards for a Bronco touchdown. The likely 14-point swing all but sealed the Chiefs' fate.
The team was able to make the score look respectable with a solid second-half performance mostly due to a merciful Denver defense whose attention had likely been diverted to their Sunday evening dinner plans at that point.
Sunday, the Cassel defenders were enabled, by meaningless statistics*, to strengthen their case that the quarterback is the right fit for Kansas City. The same goes for the Bowe defenders (if there are any).
*Cassel defenders will argue that his quarterback rating — 94.5 — is ranked ninth in the NFL, just above the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers. My rebuttal is that Cassel has benefited from the league's best rushing attack this season. Cassel hasn't, for the most part, needed to win a game with his arm thus-far. And when he has, he's failed to come through (the Bills game being the exception, though I'm not sure I'd be celebrating a game where my quarterback failed to surpass the 100-yard plateau until well into overtime). Anyway, Manning, Brees, and Rodgers — all on teams in tougher divisions and with worse running-games to turn to — have led their squads to better records thus-far than Cassel. And what more telling statistic is there to judge a quarterback than wins and losses?
This Sunday, against the Arizona Cardinals, the tandem has an opportunity to gain points with myself and every other sensible Chiefs fan who believes their respective performances in 2010 have been subpar.
It's likely the team won't need stellar performances from Cassel and Bowe to win. The Cardinals are a struggling team. They're amongst the league's worst in pass-offense, rush-offense, pass-defense, and rush-defense.
So the Chiefs should get well on the ground, taking the pressure off the passing-game. What's possible, though, is the young and now-struggling defense will give up some points to Larry Fitzgerald and company, and the Chiefs will have to score through the air to secure a victory.
If the tandem (specifically Cassel) is out to prove they can be relied upon in Kansas City, their efforts must result in more than just padded statistics. They must replicate their second-half performance in Denver this Sunday and beyond.
Most importantly, though, they must win.