KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This, of course, was the Matt Cassel that makes Chiefs fans believe he can lead the team to great things.
Boosted by a potent running game led by Jamaal Charles (returning from an ACL injury) and newcomer Peyton Hillis, and the Chiefs’ revamped offensive line that protected him flawlessly, Cassel was, well, virtually flawless.
Cassel, in his first game back since being injured last October, directed the Chiefs to two touchdown drives on his only two possessions. He completed 5 of 6 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown, leading the Chiefs to a 27-17 win over Arizona Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Words of caution, though: This is only preseason, and, we’ve seen this act before. Cassel is more than capable of directing an offense at a high level when he has great protection and an effective ground game that allows him to play-action pass at will. He is very Trent Green in that regard.
The bigger test for Cassel will come later, as it always does, when he is forced to perform under duress against tough defenses — conditions that have made him wilt too often during his three-year stint with the Chiefs.
But let’s not spoil the Chiefs’ party.
Cassel made only one poor decision, a late and dangerous throw on a deep slant to Jonathan Baldwin that was broken up.
But other than that, Cassel was extremely sharp. He made a great third-down blitz read on the first drive and connected with Dexter McCluster for a first down.
Cassel then topped that by again reading a blitz and lofting a perfect toss to Hillis for an 11-yard score, giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead. Cassel also had kept the drive alive with a fourth-down sneak for 2 yards.
Cassel’s second drive was fueled mostly by Hillis, who burst free for a 28-yard gallop.
But Cassel also showed great touch by floating a deep out that dropped over the Cardinals’ defender and into the arms of McCluster for 29 yards to the Arizona 4-yard line. The Chiefs scored on their next play for a 14-0 lead.
That was it for Cassel, and the rest of the night became an open audition for the Chiefs’ No. 2 quarterback job between Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi.
Nothing much was decided there, though the coaching staff may be a bit more comfortable with a veteran such as Quinn in the backup role as opposed to Stanzi, a second-year guy.
At least that’s how it appeared Friday asQuinn lined up with the No. 2 offense. Quinn proved serviceable, and completed 7 of 13 passes for 81 yards. He also threw a pick, though the throw was on target to rookie Devon Wylie, who let it slip through his hands and into those of Cardinals defensive back Rashad Johnson.
Quinn, as he has for most of his career, was accurate on short throws, but off-target on intermediate and deep routes. He did throw a decent long ball to wideout Jamar Newsome in the end zone in the second quarter that was incomplete, but drew a pass-interference call.
In the third quarter, Quinn also delivered his best ball of the night, a quick shot over the middle in tight quarters to tight end Steve Maneri, who made a great grab and held on for 14 yards to convert on third-and-7.
Stanzi also struggled with longer routes, though his best throw of the night also went to Maneri, who made a strong case to make the team as a backup tight end with a three catches for a team-high 69 yards. Stanzi dropped in a floater to Maneri on a seam route that was perfectly placed and led to a 27-yard gain.
Mostly, though, Stanzi threw high, and finished 2 of 7 for 42 yards.