December 14th, 2008 was a big day in the lives of Herm Edwards, Carl Peterson, Josh McDaniels, Matt Cassel, Scott Pioli, Mike Shannahan, Donnavan McNabb, Jay Cutler, Lovie Smith, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow as well as for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins and the Chicago Bears.
Only none of them knew it.
It is crazy to think that one single football play could have such a drastic impact on the paths of so many but it happened. It happened on a cold, December day at Arrowhead Stadium.
On that day, Herm Edwards was taking his 2-11, self described “college team,” into a battle with the ever underachieving 5-8 San Diego Chargers. The Chiefs were 2-11 and had nothing much left to play for except for Edwards’ job and for the chance to play spoiler.
The Chargers were attempting to make their customary late season charge at the AFC West title. Unfortunately, they were still trailing Mike Shannahan and the Denver Broncos. Jay Cutler was Shanahans QB at the time and was in the midst of a Pro Bowl season.
Things weren’t looking good for the Chargers that day at Arrowhead. They allowed three sacks to a Chiefs team that managed only 10 on the entire season, setting an all-time NFL record for futility. On top of allowing the Chiefs to get 25% of their season’s sacks in one game, the Chargers were also allowing Herm’s “College All-Star Squad” to beat them.
Late in the 4th quarter, the Chiefs were leading 21-10 and looked to have the game in the bag. Yet, as fans in Kansas City know all too well, when Herm Edwards is on your sideline no lead is safe. The Chiefs used all three of their second half timeouts despite their 18 point lead and the Chargers mounted a furious comeback. Gunther Cunningham’s defense allowed 11 points in the final 79 seconds of the contest to lose 22 to 21.
The key play came when the Chargers attempted an onside kick with just over a minute to go. The ball bounced right into the waiting arms of Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, who allowed the ball to bounce off of his chest and into the hands of Kassim Osgood.
If Dwayne Bowe holds on to that football, the game is over. The Chiefs would have gone on to win, moving their record to a much shinier 3-11 and the Chargers would have fallen to 5-9, eliminating themselves from playoff contention. The Broncos would have gone to the playoffs, Mike Shannah and wouldn’t have gotten fired, Donnavan McNabb wouldn’t have got traded to the Redskins, Josh McDaniels would never have been hired in Denver, Tim Tebow wouldn’t have been drafted by Denver and most frighteningly, there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that Carl Peterson and Herm Edwards would have been given one more year to finish destroying the Kansas City Chiefs.
Instead the Chargers would finish at 8-8 and steal the AFC West away from the Broncos. Missing the playoffs was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Shannahan and the longtime Bronco’s coach was fired. Herm Edwards and Carl Peterson also found that their camel’s back was broken and though Herm would hang around to see through his 2-14 coaching masterpiece, King Carl announced the day after the Chargers debacle that his regine of terror in Kansas City was officially over.
The obsession of all NFL teams to acquire all things New England Patriots, led to the Broncos hiring on Josh McDaniels to be their new head coach. The Chiefs brought in new GM Scott Pioli who took his time firing Herm Edwards because he was waiting on Todd Haley to finish coaching in the Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals.
Meanwhile in New England, Matt Cassel and the 11-5 Patriots watched the injustice that is the NFL’s playoff selection process roll along and put the 8-8 Chargers in the postseason while they went home to play golf. The Patriots slapped the franchise tag on Cassel and then promptly traded the QB sensation to the Chiefs for a second round pick. They also threw in a Mike Vrabel and free power windows.
While Chiefs Nation rejoiced at the prospect of finally acquiring their franchise QB of the future as well as their, slow, unable to rush the QB, intangible processing linebacker of the future, Josh McDaniels was getting off to a rocky start in Denver.
You see it quickly came out that McDaniels had called up the Patriots to inquire about the services of Cassel. Most experts criticized McDaniels for going after his boy Cassel when he had Cutler playing in the Pro Bowl.
Cutler didn’t take kindly to the news despite the fact that McDaniels was lying to anyone who would listen, telling them he never called the Patriots. Cutler, like everyone else, didn’t buy it. Unlike everyone else, Cutler didn’t get over it. The Broncos QB demanded a trade and refused to show up at the Broncos facility or even meet with McDaniels.
Jay Cutler’s hissy fit in Denver should have been our first clue that the QB didn’t have what it takes to be a leader of men. His behavior was debated but no one really got to the heart of the matter which was that Cutler cared more about Cutler than he did about football.
McDaniels showed his spine or lack thereof, by caving and trading Cutler to the Chicago Bears. The Bears sent back Kyle Orton and a billion first round picks and the public ridicule of McDaniels continued.
Things didn’t get better for McDaniels once the season started. Despite starting off 6-0, the Broncos were a fraud and were soon exposed. The only feather in McDaniels’ cap was that Orton outplayed Cutler but even that was tainted because the guy he originally wanted, Matt Cassel, was stinking things up in Kansas City.
The 2011 season didn’t do McDaniels any favors either. His team remained terrible and Jay Cutler started playing decent football in Chicago. Ironically, it would be Matt Cassel and the Chiefs that broke the back of the camel that McDaniels was riding by beating the Broncos 10-6 in a horrifically ugly game at Arrowhead. McDaniels was fired just days later and the Chicago Bears would go on to play in the NFC Championship game.
It wasn’t until after the NFC Championship game that I realized that, despite all his bungles and stupid decisions, the smartest thing McDaniels did in Denver was to try to get another QB other than Jay Cutler.
Say what you will about McDaniels but he knew from the off that Jay Cutler wasn’t the type of football player that would fit the “Patriot Way.” The “Patriot Way” is all about the player putting the team and football above all else. Matt Cassel is that kind of guy. So is Kyle Orton.
Jay Cutler is not.
2010 proved that Matt Cassel is the better man. He may not be as talented as Jay Cutler but if the Bears had Matt Cassel or hell, even Kyle Orton in the NFC Championship game they’d of had a much better chance. Those two QB’s could have played at least as well as Caleb Haine and both would have had to leave the field on a golf cart if they ever left it at all.
Earlier this season Matt Cassel had an emergency appendectomy on the Wednesday before the team went into a crucial divisional game with the Chargers. Cassel didn’t travel with the team and the Chiefs lost but he was back on the field the next week throwing the football and returned to the starting lineup in KC’s next game against the St. Louis Rams. Cassel led the Chiefs to victory in that game in what was one of the gutsiest (no pun intended) performances in Kansas City football history. Cassel rushed for 17 yards in that game, most of which came on a key 13-yard scramble. All 11 days after having an organ removed. He didn’t play great but he played.
Cassel loves football. Cassel is a leader of men. If his return in the Rams game didn’t inspire the confidence of his teammates, nothing would. The Chiefs would go on to hold off the Chargers and win the AFC West.
Cutler on the other hand, suffered an MCL sprain in the NFC Championship and retired to the sideline to watch Todd Collins pretend to be an NFL QB.
I think to some degree that the criticism of Cutler is unfair but I understand why he is receiving it. It wasn’t just that Cutler quit on the field, he quit on the sideline too. Every shot of Cutler shown on TV showed a beaten man who seemed to be more interesting in keeping warm than doing anything he could to help his team win.
If Matt Cassel was on the sideline watching Todd Collins try with all his might to throw interceptions, he would have been screaming in Lovie Smith’s ear to let him back on the field. We know he would because he did the same thing to Todd Haley when the Chiefs coach benched him in a game the Chiefs were winning. Cassel took one look at a Brodie Croyle interception and let his head coach know just what he thought of being on the sideline.
Cutler did nothing. He watched, he adjusted the hood on his coat and he glowered. That was about it. He didn’t even seem alarmed when Lovie Smith sent Caleb Haine into the game before the end of the 3rd quarter, knowing that if Hanie snapped the ball, neither Cutler nor Collins could re-enter the game should disaster strike.
In fact, the only time Cutler looked the least bit interested was at the very end of the game when Hanie was trying to clean up the mess Cutler left on the field for him and send the Bears to the Super Bowl.
“Hey,” Cutler seemed to think, “if this Hanie kid gets this done I just might be able to play in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks. Cool!”
I don’t recall any shots of Cutler talking to or coaching up Hanie or yelling at Lovie Smith for being an idiot. All I saw was Cutler worrying about Culter. That is what everyone else saw as well and that is why Cutler is getting raked over the coals.
McDaniels saw it too. The “Patriot Way” is flawed. The philosophy’s major problem is that it often encourages it’s disciples to chose intangibles (Mike Vrabel) over talent (Andy Studebaker). What the “Patriot Way” does to well, is weed out the rotten eggs from the good ones.
On that, on trying to pick Matt Cassel over Jay Cutler, McDaniels knew what he was doing.