Cassel a 'winner,' but will he win?

Cassel a 'winner,' but will he win?

Published Jun. 9, 2012 11:21 p.m. ET

Lordy, you could hear the snickers from Topeka all the way to Laguna Beach. New Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called Matt Cassel a "winner" the other day. Then he did it two more times, presumably for emphasis.


Regardless, half the city responded by rolling its eyes. The other half groaned.

Now, in his defense, Daboll pointed out that Cassel was one of just nine quarterbacks — Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger chief among them — who have won at least 10 games in a season twice over the last four years.

It's a hell of a stat.

That is, until you read the fine print.

For one, it neglects to consider the fact that, in those other two years, Cassel's record was 8-16. For another, of those nine "winners," just two — Aaron Rodgers and Cassel — also had a losing season on their resume over that time.

And only Cassel had two sub-.500 campaigns under his belt. "Winners" don't go 4-11.

"I think Matt has proven he can get a team to the playoffs and win a division," coach Romeo Crennel said. "He has shown that he can do it. Now it's up to us to get him to do it again."

The message is clear: We've laid out the tools, son. Now go build something.

The past six months have been all about fortifying the foundation, shaving off the excuses, bit by bit. Like most contending NFL rosters — and this one, on paper, is 100 percent bona fide perfectly legit — general manager Scott Pioli has wisely rebuilt at some of the most critical (and oft-injured) positions, toting a quality pair of nearly everything important. The shopping was fruitful; the upgrades roll almost all the way across the board.

Everywhere except, most noticeably, at quarterback. Brady Quinn knows the offense, but his career mark as a starter sits at a less-than-robust 3-9. Ricky Stanzi remains a tantalizing unknown at this level. Alex Tanney is Annie Oakley when it comes to hitting trash cans, but what about living, breathing, running targets?

This fall sets up as a screaming referendum on Cassel, who turned 30 last month, as much as it is on the Chiefs' current front office. They're pushing all their chips on No. 7 in red. You just wonder if they're doing so happily. One minute, Pioli goes on local radio and compares Cassel to Len Dawson, the franchise's gold standard. The next, he admits to chasing Peyton Manning and won't apologize for it. Is it all a bunch of smoke? Or a brilliant psychological ploy?

"If we've got 52 guys every night that go to be a little bit uncomfortable, that are looking forward to that competition the next day," Cassel allowed earlier this spring, "maybe (if it) makes them work out a little bit harder or study the playbook a little bit better, we're going to have a pretty damn good football team."

How good? Well, that remains to be seen. Like the Vikings and Browns, the Chiefs are one of the NFL's great cursed January franchises — over the past two decades, just a solitary signal-caller, the legendary Joe Montana, was able to rise above it and carry them to at least one postseason victory. Cassel, to his credit, has already led them to the party once. You get the sense that, to finally sway the populace, he's going to have to keep them there through at least a round. For better or worse, that's the bar.

So far, the Kansas City ledger shows 18 wins and 21 losses with Cassel behind the wheel. A winner? Sort of. Sometimes. That depends. With Brady and Roethlisberger, you count the rings. With Cassel, you count the qualifiers.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say our man Matt is the quarterbacking version of the protagonist from that old nursery rhyme, The Little Girl With A Curl: When he's good, he's very, very good. And when he isn't, run and duck.

"I know he's a good quarterback," offered cornerback Stanford Routt, who'd squared off against Cassel with the Oakland Raiders before joining the Chiefs in February. "I don't really know about … a lot of the stuff going on about the quarterback (position), or a controversy or anything like that. But he was just fine to me any time I was going against him."

Just fine? Is that good enough?

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