FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 21: Tyler Palko #4 of the Kansas City Chiefs is chased by Mark Anderson #95 of the New England Patriots in the second half at Gillette Stadium on November 21, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Have you ever been in a fight you knew you couldn't win? One in which the odds were so stacked against you that you knew, not matter what you did, that it was over before it even started? Maybe there were three or four of them, maybe the dude you were throwing down with happened to be a boxer (side note: it's REALLY stupid to fight a guy you know absolutely nothing about. You just never know who you're messing with. If you're about to fight someone and he's taking short, sliding steps towards you with his hands in a proper guard, maybe it's time to back off. Don't say I never told you anything useful), maybe you're just not that tough. Whatever. But I want you to draw on that experience.
I want you to remember what it feels like to keep getting back up after getting knocked to the ground. To feel the blood in your mouth as you throw yourself back into the fray. To gain the upper hand for just a second, only to again be hammered by forces you absolutely cannot beat. Remember what that felt like? The absolute hopelessness? The helpless, inevitable feeling as they finally got you on the ground and began to work your ribs over with kicks and stomps at your head?
That's the feeling that most closely describes what happened to the Chiefs defense last night. They stood toe-to-toe with one of the best offenses in the league. For a while they were giving as good as they got, and then some. They had Tom Brady skittish in the pocket after hitting him time and time again. They'd knocked the Patriots vaunted offense around and were flying all over the field.
But it just... didn't... matter.Because when you can't score points, you can't win football games. And against a team like the Patriots, your defense is going to eventually falter when repeatedly pressed into holding a slim lead.
I really felt for our boys out there on defense. Ol' Romeo had them fired up, to be sure. As I sat and watched the first half unfold I kept asking, "Who ARE these guys?" I haven't seen our defense play like that all year. All those blitzes. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston teaming up to slam Tom Brady into the ground (and Houston's showing some progress. I like it). Amon Gordon pancaking that pretty boy with no mercy. Crap, there was even a Wallace Gilberry sighting. I thought he was somewhere hanging out with Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and .
But in the end, the inevitable gives way. When you're blitzing like crazy, you've got to build a lead. Otherwise a good team will start dinking and dunking you to death and taking advantage of the running opportunities an over-aggressive defense gives. And that's just what happened. The Chiefs don't have anyone that can handle The Gronk. And if you don't FORCE the team to play catch-up, bad things will happen.
And the Chiefs couldn't do it. Throughout the first half the offense couldn't deliver and put points on the board. They moved the ball with some of the better playcalling I've seen this year (tell the truth, Todd. You took over. Just admit it, make it public, and send Bill Muir back to full time O-line coach. Why wait? I swear it was like you called the plays in the first half and then handed it back over to Muir in the second. Either that or you're suffering from multiple-coaching-style-disorder).
The defense was in a fight that it had no chance of winning without some help, and it lost.
We officially know Tyler Palko is not the answer
I'm almost positive that no one is surprised by this turn of events. The good about Palko? He's "gutsy" and a "gamer" and all that stuff. He noticeably goes through his progressions (which is fun to watch a quarterback do for a change). He didn't completely crap himself in his first start. Other than one glaring weakness, he's not bad.
But that weakness is a totally, absolutely, completely, utterly, ridiculously, unfathomably weak arm. The moment he made his first throw (despite it being a completion) I knew it was going to be bad. This feeling was confirmed as my wife turned to me and said, "That's how a football looks when I throw it."
You cannot make a living as an NFL quarterback if you don't have any arm strength. And don't talk to me about Chad Pennington or Trent Green, OK? Because when I'm saying Palko doesn't have arm strength, I'm not saying he has a "weak arm for an NFL quarterback" like those guys did. I'm saying he has a weak arm for a quarterback at any level. I've played flag football with guys that put more zip on the ball than Palko. The guy's got a noodle for an arm. You cannot overcome a weakness that extreme.
For example, while there are pitchers that make their living throwing stuff that barely tops 90 mph, you don't see any pitchers in the major leagues who can't crack 80. And frankly, I think Palko would be more around 65-70 as a pitcher. There's just no way it works. Sooner or later hitters are going to start teeing off on you. And sooner or later, NFL defenses will realize you've got no arm and play only the first 15 yards off the LOS (and frankly, even on SHORT throws Palko floats the ball).
And before you say that those interceptions weren't his fault, allow me to assure you, they were. Bad throws on each one, although I'll perhaps give him some leeway for getting CRUSHED as he threw that first pick (Seriously. Ouch. That one was brutal). And that throw to Dwayne Bowe was as bad as any throw Matt Cassel's made.
On the flip side of that, Palko WAS able to complete 66% of his passes for 6.2 yards per attempt, and the offense was moving pretty well for a chunk of the game. Which brings me to this...
The writing is on the wall for Matt Cassel
The ONLY way I was willing to consider that Cassel was secretly a good quarterback being held back by terrible circumstances was if Palko was noticeably way, way worse than Cassel. And he wasn't. Now, in all fairness, Cassel has a MUCH stronger arm than Palko. I'll give you that all day.
But Palko was able to move the offense just as well as Cassel has at most points his year. And Tyler Palko is not an average starting quarterback. That should tell you something. But in case I'm not being clear enough, I'll give you an example from MMA (we're hitting on "other sports" analogies today).
You've got a fighter who's lost 3 straight matches. You say he's a good fighter that's had crummy circumstances. I say he's a terrible fighter. So we throw a guy who has absolutely no stand-up game and is considered an amateur fighter in the ring with someone of similar caliber to the guys Fighter #1 lost to. And while Fighter #2 loses, he doesn't fair much worse than Fighter #1. What does that say about Fighter #1 when he can't significantly outperform a bad fighter with a crippling weakness?
Or how about a law school analogy? I think I'm smart, yet I keep getting D's in every class. I say it's because the classes are hard, circumstances are bad, you can't expect elite all the time, yadda yadda yadda. So we enroll student B, who happens to be a terrible, terrible reader and was considered a mediocre student even in undergrad. So he takes the same classes I take, and gets the same grade. What does this tell me about myself as a law student?
No, I'm not saying Palko is better than Cassel. That would be insane. The man can't throw the ball hard enough to break a storm window from ten yards away. But he's not so much WORSE that he makes me pine for the good old days with Matty Nice. And if Matt Cassel were a good NFL quarterback, that's how it would be. Period. 'Nuff said. END OF STORY!!!!!! (I have now completely won that debate by rules of internet law.)
A thought on injuries...
Yeah, we all miss Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki. But lately I hear such truisms as "injuries are no excuse." Now, I get that we don't want to sweep aside this horrible season under the Kool-Aid-drunk idea of, "awwww, it's ok guys! You're buddies aren't here to help you! Now you just go try your very, very bestest!"
That said... I'll just point out a few things.
When Troy Polamalu missed over half the season in 2009, the Steelers defense went from absolutely dominant to very, very average. With Troy, they gave up 13 points per game. Without him, they gave up 23 points per game.
(Now the argument could be made that they also were missing Aaron Smith for much of the season, but when he played without Troy P. there the defense still gave up 24 points per game. Add in the fact that Aaron Smith has been hurt since Week 5 this year and their defense is still excellent at 16 points pergame since he went down, and it becomes clear that his absence was NOT the issue that year).
Read that again. A stud defense with a good line and all-world outside linebackers went from giving up 13 points per game to 23 points per game. They went from absolutely dominant to subpar. That's how important a safety can be if he's an animal and your defense is built around what he can do. Doesn't it reasonably follow that an average-to-decent defense will become a bad defense in a similar situation?
Like I said, not everything can be excused. But let's not underestimate the loss of our best defensive player.
As far as Tony Moeaki goes, go back and watch last night's game and Leonard Pope. Then tell me Moeaki's absence isn't hurting the Chiefs in a big way. I'm pretty sure the memory is fresh enough I don't need to say anything else about that particular injury.
Finally, Jamaal Charles. Let me put it this way. In 2010, JC accounted for 1,935 of KC's 5,595 total yards. That's 35% of the offense. More importantly, the man averaged seven yards per play he touched the ball. Other than JC, the Chiefs averaged 4.64 yards per play. Let those numbers sink in, then realize all over again just how devastating that loss was.
Yeah, injuries don't excuse the lack of depth, which is an issue. Or the quarterback play, which is another issue. Or key positions unaddressed, which is a third issue. BUT... they sure help explain the LEVEL of sucktitude. On their own, losing any one of those guys (including Moeaki. Again, go watch Pope last night) would've been bad news. Together? Ugh.
I thought the season was over when all three of them went down. The four-game winning streak was a facade that made me start to ignore common sense. Now? Back to reality. The Chiefs weren't a good enough team to lose the two best players and another key player. Some teams can handle it because they've got better overall talent and depth. The Chiefs are not there.
What now is Ricky Stanzi.
By that, I mean it's time to start planning for next offseason and next year (at least we've never had to think that way before... sigh). Time to get the youngsters out there more and see what they've got (Who else was happy to see Jerrell Powe out there?). And among the most important players that KC needs to figure out is Stanzi.
Personally, I don't think he'll be the savior, and the Chiefs will need to draft a quarterback in the spring. But we know two things: Matt Cassel is not the answer at quarterback, and neither is Tyler Palko. And while Stanzi may not have all of Palko's "grit" and whatnot, he can throw the football harder than my wife. So what exactly do the Chiefs have to lose?
Maybe wait until after the Steelers game to give the guy time to take a few snaps. But then...toss the kid in there.
Spoiler alert: the Chiefs are likely going to get beat in most of the remaining games regardless. So it's time to see if they can catch lightning in a bottle with the fifth rounder, and kick the tires of the young fellas to prepare for the return of the best players next year (and, I pray, the arrival of RG3 barring a miracle by Stanzi).