Sacks, turnovers -- Cassel returns to KC, and for the Chiefs, it was like he never left
AUG 24, 2014 1:06a ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With 10:08 to go in the third quarter and the Kansas City Chiefs spinning wheels like hell at their own 11, Alex Smith scrambled for his life up the right boundary.
Inside the press box high above, the sonorous voice on the public-address system piped to the media said this:
"Cassel on the carry."
Open palm. Insert face.
With the exceptions of perhaps De'Anthony Thomas early and Travis Kelce late, everything in Chiefsland felt a bit ... well, off on Saturday night. The Minnesota Vikings were the ones winning the return-yardage battle, 156-4. The Vikings were the ones winning the sack battle, five takedowns to three. The Vikings won the turnover battle, three takeaways to one.
Minnesota 30, Chiefs 12 felt like the Purple People, for one night, snatched The Andy Gang's Magic Formula for 2013, rolled it up like a newspaper and started flogging the hosts over the head with it.
"Everyone got a piece of the pie," coach Andy Reid said after his team dipped to 1-2 in the preseason.
They sure did. And it tasted like a whole lot of crow.
It felt so damn strange, like one of those identity-switching, live-action Disney movies on cleats. Former Chiefs quarterback/town pariah Matt Cassel rolled back into Arrowhead Stadium, starting under center for the Vikes, and it was as if his spirit -- the 2012, turnover-happy spirit -- took over Reid's signal-callers as well.
Through three quarters, Chiefs quarterbacks had completed a combined 14 passes on 28 attempts for 140 yards, with zero touchdowns, three picks and four sacks allowed.
No wonder the gang spotting in the press box was confused.
"This was the dress rehearsal, right?" said Alex Smith, who was picked off twice -- and both throws came off uncharacteristically rushed -- and sacked three times.
More like an undress rehearsal, you mean.
One the plus side, The Andy Gang has committed just two penalties for 15 yards in infractions. Hey. One issue at a time.
And for Reid and company, the biggest one right now isn't the secondary -- Cassel managed just 114 net passing yards in the first half, and only 39 in the second quarter -- so much as it is the offensive line. Again.
Right tackle Donald Stephenson's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs has turned an already-shaky unit into one of those giant BINGO "squirrel" cages; turn the crank, and see which letters and numbers pop out.
"We just didn't get it done, point-blank," said reserve guard Jeff Linkenbach, pressed into starting duty at left guard in place of Jeff Allen, who'd been moved to fill Stephenson's usual spot on the right side. "Physically, communication-wise, we have to be better, in all facets of the game."
And soon. Because Smith, last year's Cool Hand Luke, the steady hand the Chiefs had been missing at quarterback, appeared to play -- well, scared. And that was new.
There were happy feet. Some throws were short; others sailed. Mr. Accurate had morphed, in a blink, into Mr. All Over The Damn Place.
Nor did it help that second-year man Eric Fisher seems to be playing left tackle, basically, with the full usage of just one arm. That's no way to ensure Smith any comfort on the blind side, even if that one arm belongs to Anthony Munoz.
"But he's not one to make excuses," Linkenbach continued. "And there's no excuses in this league, period. We, as a unit, need to do better. It's not just on Fish -- it's not just on any one player."
So the pie was shared, from running back Knile Davis (12 carries, 27 rushing yards) to receivers who were as mercurial as the blocking was spotty to -- gasp! -- special teams.
Maybe it was the heat. Yeahhhhh, that's it. There was a warning issued to fans before the game, when temperatures on the field during warm-ups reportedly cracked triple digits. The fire continued into the first quarter, when Cassel torched rookie safety Daniel Sorensen over the top with a rainbow to Cordarrelle Patterson for a 53-yard score that put the visitors up 6-0 and put the Chiefs on their heels.
"It was a great way to start the game, there's no doubt about it," said Cassel, who completed 9 of 17 throws for 152 yards on the evening. "To come in here and get going -- we were backed up on our own 3, or maybe 5-yard-line, and then to be able to get going like that and hit a long play, it was great."
No hard feelings? No hard feelings.
"I've been in it long enough to know that if you don't win, normally they make changes and they did," Cassel said of his release from the Chiefs in March 2013 after four roller-coaster campaigns. "And I was really happy to see that they had a lot of success. I know Alex Smith really well. He's a heck of a quarterback, (a) great guy and I thought they did a remarkably good job last year to turn this thing around."
If the Chiefs' bulging injury list is any indication, general manager John Dorsey is going to have to pull off an even more remarkable job this go-around to keep the ship afloat.
For a tilt that was supposed to be the last real "test" before the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 against Tennessee, what was more notable than who played was who didn't: safety Eric Berry (heel), linebacker Joe Mays (wrist surgery), defensive lineman Mike DeVito, wideout Dwayne Bowe (quadriceps) and slot wideout Junior Hemingway (hip) were pregame scratches.
Bowe can't play against the Titans because of drug-related arrest in November 2013, so Frankie Hammond Jr. opened in his slot outside. With Mays' status uncertain and backup Josh Mauga also ailing, second-year linebacker Nico Johnson got the call to start opposite Derrick Johnson in the middle of the defense, while Sorensen started a third straight contest in relief of Berry.
There it was, the big dress rehearsal, and half the cast was sitting in the orchestra pit.
"I couldn't tell you exactly how long it takes," Allen said. "But we've got to figure it out fast."
Time, Dorsey still has. How much Smith will get in the pocket, once the darts start flying for real, is anybody's stinking guess.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @SeanKeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.