Matt Cassel wouldn't let the Chiefs lose.
On Sunday morning, Cassel, the Chiefs quarterback, was 11 days removed from an emergency appendectomy. But he went out on the field at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, "and I told coach [Todd Haley] I'd be honest with him, and I was able to do everything without reservation. We didn't have to hold anything out of the game plan because of my situation. We did sprint out throws, boots, play-action. No problem.''
Cassel missed the Chiefs' 31-0 loss at San Diego last week that seemed to underscore the team's need for him. They got nothing going on offense, didn't convert a third down all day, and seemed vulnerable heading into their final three games of the year with only a half-game lead in the AFC West. And the slump continued early in St. Louis, when the Rams kicked two first-quarter field goals and picked off Cassel, riling up the crowd.
"I told the guys, 'Don't get overwhelmed,' '' Cassel told me. " 'Withstand the storm. We'll be fine.' ''
It was the Kansas City run game that carried the Chiefs Sunday -- Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined for 188 rushing yards, and Jones became the 25th back ever to surpass 10,000 career rushing yards. Cassel's got a good grip on this team now, and the Chiefs won't be an easy out in the playoffs if they hold off San Diego for the West title.
Tebow: "It was fun to play football again.''
Tim Tebow knew he'd be a little nervous -- well, maybe a lot nervous -- Saturday night after going over his playsheet twice with Denver quarterback coach Ben (Brother of Josh) McDaniels. So he took an Ambien. "Slept great,'' he said. Then he got up Sunday in Oakland and met with McDaniels again to go over what they'd try to do against the Raiders.
I watched the Tebow highlights -- and a couple of lowlights -- in the 39-23 loss against Oakland, and this is what I saw in his performance (8 of 16, 138 yards, one touchdown, no picks; eight rushes for 78 yards and a touchdown):
Evidence of his new mechanics. Through the offseason, Josh and Ben McDaniels worked significantly on quickening the lefty's delivery and keeping his right arm from flying out. That showed Sunday, particularly on a quick crossing pattern to Jabar Gaffney and a sideline throw to Brandon Lloyd. He seems confident in his delivery.
Throwing the ball harder. He had a couple of good line-drive throws, including one that was dropped in the end zone by running back Lance Ball.
He still needs to work on surveying the field and seeing all his receivers. A couple of times he appeared rushed and mechanical trying to see his targets. It's got to become more fluid.
Hard to tell much about his accuracy in the nine or 10 throws I saw. Too small a sample to draw any conclusions.
His touchdown run -- from 40 yards out -- was odd. "A play was called that I hadn't repped,'' he said. (Strange that the Broncos would call a play, even on a long down-and-distance, that Tebow had never practiced.) The play was supposed to be a draw to Correll Buckhalter, but Tebow thought it was a quarterback draw. So he ran it -- and Buckhalter put a nice block on safety Tyvon Branch downfield, helping Tebow score.
Before the game, Tebow exchanged text-messages with Josh McDaniels, who wished him well. "It's bittersweet, playing without him,'' Tebow said. "He believed in me, he chose me, he worked with me, he had confidence in me. I wanted to much to prove him right. But I'm a positive person, and I believe it'll work out well for me and the team here.''
It'll be interesting to see who the Broncos hire, and whether it'll be a coach who believes Tebow can be a good NFL quarterback. I've heard John Elway, likely to take a management role with the team sometime after the season, is intrigued by Tebow and would like to be influential with him. But without McDaniels, and assuming Ben McDaniels is gone after the season when a new staff takes over, Tebow may have to adapt to a new style. He's still very much a work in progress.
Tumbling down the depth chart with Donovan.
"I gotta do what I think is right, even though it'll get me second-guessed to death,'' Mike Shanahan said from Dallas after the Donovan McNabb-benched Redskins lost 33-30 to the Cowboys. And that means giving the reins to Rex Grossman for most of the final three games, much to the chagrin of McNabb fans.
But Grossman went 25 of 43 for 322 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions as Washington tied the game at 30 after trailing 27-7. A crazy game, sort of like the craziness that has enveloped the team since Shanahan made his call Thursday to sit McNabb. The Redskins, as it turns out, will likely end up getting only 13 games out of him in exchange for second- and fourth-round picks, because there's little chance they'll be able to keep McNabb after burying him this way.
Shanahan told me McNabb, who was the number two quarterback Sunday, will be third in the final two games while he gives Grossman and -- he hopes -- John Beck a chance to show themselves. "Nothing Rex did today surprises me,'' Shanahan said. "And I think John Beck's got an excellent future. I'm looking at the long-term. I've got to look out for what's best for this team for the long-term, so I want to see what we have with Rex and John Beck. I feel like I know where I am with Donovan.''
Here's where they are with Grossman: In the previous four meetings with Dallas, Washington totaled 20 points. On Sunday, they scored 30. Progress, perhaps, but with a lot of pain.
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