From Qwest Field, Seattle
Of all the plays that went down in the Chiefs victory over Seattle on Sunday, this one will be overlooked. When Matt Cassel’s performance is remembered, it will be one of the four touchdown passes he threw in leading the Chiefs to a 42-24 victory over the Seahawks.
Forgotten will be a 3rd-and-6 play late in the third quarter. The ball was at the Chiefs 44-yard line and their lead had shrunk from 14 points in the first half to four points. They were dominating the action, but they were ahead by only four points.
Now they faced an important play. Either the offense gets the first down and continues the possession, or the Chiefs have to punt the ball way and the Seahawks would have a chance to go down and score and actually take the lead.
The Chiefs came out in a 1-1-3 alignment with RB Jamaal Charles, TE Tony Moeaki and WRs Dwayne Bowe, Verran Tucker and Terrence Copper. Cassel was in the shotgun.
At the snap, LT Barry Richardson lost position on Seattle DE Chris Clemons. For most of the game, Richardson did a pretty good job on the left side, but this play was a potential disaster. Clemons had a free run at Cassel and if he didn’t sack him, or hit him as he was throwing, he would hit him after the ball was gone and it would be painful blow.
A year ago, heaven knows how Cassel would have reacted in the face of this situation. He would probably have been sacked, or lost the ball on a fumble, or thrown the ball up to get rid of it and watched it be picked off.
That was last year’s edition of Cassel. He is different now. He’s more experienced, better schooled, and resolute in what his mission is as the offensive leader of the 2010 Chiefs. Cassel has been told over and over again that he can’t turn the ball over, whether that’s throwing the pick or fumbling the ball. That wasn’t going to happen.
But the thing with Cassel is that he’s so damn competitive, maybe too competitive at times. He’s only now learning to live to play another down. It was an important moment of the game, and he knew that. Yes, he had to be careful, however â€¦
Rather than duck and go down, Cassel somehow spun out of the grasp of Clemons. He twisted completely around and starting running to the left. Earlier in the game he ran five times with some success, picking up 28 yards.
This time there wasn’t any room to run. Cassel had his head up, looking down field and he saw that Bowe had reacted to his being flushed out of the pocket and was headed to the sideline, a defender behind him. Cassel threw on the run, put a little air under the ball and it dropped into Bowe’s hands as he went out of bounds.
It was a gain of eight yards and a Kansas City first down. Six plays later, Charles scored on a three-yard run and the Chiefs were now up by 11 points again.
“I’m proud of Matt Cassel, he keeps setting that bar higher and higher,” said Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. “He came on the road in a difficult hostile environment and you see the signs of a good quarterback. He did terrific job.”
Cassel finished the game 22 of 32 for 233 yards. That’s a 68.8 completion percentage and an average gain of 7.28 yards per attempt. He threw the three touchdown passes to Bowe and one to Moeaki. Cassel was not sacked. He did not throw an interception. His passer rating finished at 129.3.
All of those numbers are very similar to those he’s put up over the previous six games, when he was one of the NFL’s most efficient passers. But the differences in this game were big compared to those previous half-dozen games â€“ he was on the road, playing in the elements, with a loud crowd that takes pride in hurting offensive communication. And, did I mention that the protector of his backside, LT Branden Albert was dressed but unable to play because of a groin injury.
The least effected by all of this seemed to be Cassel.
“It was a mentality for us to go out and play physical,” Cassel said. “The offensive line did a great job. The backs were doing a great job of sticking their nose in there and fighting for extra yards. It goes back to having that balanced attack, mixing and matching the pass and the run.”
That balance generated by Charles in the running game and Cassel and his receivers in the passing attack allowed them convert a remarkable 11 of 17 third down plays and they were five-for-five on touchdowns when they reached the red zone.
Efficient, productive, complementary, tough-minded â€“ those are all the characteristics of the 2010 Chiefs. And more importantly, those are the characteristics of their starting quarterback. Matt Cassel is making believers in his ability to lead this team.
“He had a great day today,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of his former player at Southern Cal. “We couldn’t rattle him on third down, we couldn’t get to him enough.”
Especially on a third down play in the third quarter that will be forgotten. Matt Cassel made a play.