We've come a long way, haven't we?
It seems it's been a lifetime since the days of questioning whether quarterback Matt Cassel was somehow holding back the Kansas City Chiefs during their surprisingly hot start early in the season. Now, after a blowout-loss in San Diego Sunday, the team, just a loss away from losing their once-tight grip on a division-lead and a playoff berth, are left to wonder if Cassel can return quickly enough to save the season.
This scenario is so odd and ironic and fitting, it's almost hard to believe. The majority of the Kansas City fanbase has been anti-Cassel virtually his entire time here. He struggled most of 2009 and the early part of the 2010 campaign. As the season progressed, though, he began to vastly improve — to the point of deserving Pro Bowl votes in the Tom Brady and Peyton Manning owned AFC — and the team was set for a probable playoff-run with a two-game divisional lead with four to play.
Then, the emergency appendectomy left the team without its suddenly-revered quarterback for its biggest game to date, and his status going forward is uncertain. You can't write the script any better than this.
This could play out a few different ways, with Cassel's standing as the face of Kansas City's beloved football franchise hanging in the balance.
Fair or not, if Cassel's surgery disallows him to play in St. Louis this Sunday, it would be viewed-upon as a letdown by coaches and players, alike. Fans would be more sympathetic to a player recovering from surgery, but a playoff-bound season stalled by the starting quarterback's inability to get on the field is what it is — a disappointment.
And as hard as it is to grasp after watching the game in San Diego, an injured Matt Cassel is no more valuable to the team than a healthy (and winless) Brodie Croyle.*
*Sadly, that statement remains true vice-versa.
If Cassel returns and fails to lead the Chiefs to postseason play (meaning a loss in St. Louis or at home against the Titans or Raiders), the script would change a bit, but the end result would still yield the same feelings of disappointment for all parties involved. The three remaining games are all extremely winnable. If the Chiefs aren't playing games in January, it'd mean the team's leaders, specifically Cassel, failed to pick them up during one of its easier stretches on the schedule and when it needed them most.
Naturally, the quarterback would get the blunt of the blame.
This whole ordeal could end up playing to Cassel's favor, though. All it would take is his healthy return and three subsequent victories upon it.
Fans would rejoice. The team as a whole would view Cassel as their unequivocal leader — a title you could argue he's already earned, but is in danger of losing depending on how the next three weeks play out. He and the city would potentially erase some of the disconnect created when a quarterback from So-Cal leads a midwest football town.
The appendectomy would essentially result in the growing appreciation of Cassel's value from the fans and media, while allowing him to play the role of something like a savior. Kansas City could eventually become "his town". He'd be a hero.
We all watched in disbelief Sunday — Do the Chiefs really need Cassel THAT BAD?
As we've come to realize, the answer is and has always been a very emphatic — Yes. We need him now more than ever.