Week 4 winners/losers: Chiefs' Matt Cassel may be losing grip on starting job

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel at least has one supporter left in coach Romeo Crennel. Beyond that, the fourth-year starter for the Chiefs is losing confidence from players and many others in the organization. In fact, if the team had a better alternative than Brady Quinn as the top backup, Cassel might have already found his way to the bench.

"Look, there's a big reason why they went after Peyton Manning as hard as they did this offseason," said a source with knowledge of Chiefs president Scott Pioli's thinking. "What you're seeing from Cassel is pretty much what was expected. He's a really nice backup, not a starter."

Except for Cassel's highly efficient 2010 season, when he threw for 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions as the Chiefs played an incredibly soft schedule, he has combined for 31 touchdowns and 32 interceptions in his other 29 games for Kansas City. So far this season, Cassel has 5 TD passes and 7 interceptions.

So far this season, Cassel has played four pretty average to downright weak defenses: Atlanta, San Diego, New Orleans and Buffalo. The Bills (131) and Saints (130) have given up the third- and fourth-most points, respectively, through the season's first month.

On Sunday, during the 37-20 loss to the Chargers, Cassel threw three picks but dressed up his final numbers with a couple of garbage touchdowns in the second half.

"He still can do some good things," Crennel told reporters after the game. "The second half, we tried to rally a little bit and we were able to move the ball down the field. We had a spark of life there in the third quarter, and he was the one that helped that spark.

"I could have taken [running back Jamaal] Charles out because of his struggles and his problems, but he's also the one who can run for a touchdown. [Those are] some of the decisions a head coach has to make and you have to go with your gut feeling, and what you know about your team and then move forward with it."

OK, but that's some concocted logic. First of all, Charles had 92 yards on 17 carries and added another 23 receiving yards and a touchdown. He did lose two fumbles, but that's an exception for Charles. Not a career trend.

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At a time when throwing more TDs than interceptions is a standard for even mediocre starting quarterbacks, Cassel is drifting into very dangerous range. Yes, Cassel is still a great story, the guy who made it in the NFL after not playing since high school.

But that story only goes so far.

Here are the winners and losers for Week 4:


On a day when four games came down to field goals in the final minutes, final seconds or in overtime, Washington Redskins kicker Billy Cundiff may have been the biggest winner of all after hitting a 41-yarder with three seconds left to give the Redskins a 24-22 victory against Tampa Bay. Cundiff put himself in the pooch hut earlier in the game by missing three field goals before hitting the game-winner. Cundiff, who as a Raven failed to send last season's AFC championship game into overtime with a field goal against the Patriots, is probably still not in great shape with coach Mike Shanahan. But Sunday's boot might get him a reprieve.

Beyond Cundiff, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was again excellent, particularly on the game-winning drive. Griffin hit passes of 15 and 20 yards (the 20-yarder was against a heavy blitz), and then scrambled 15 yards to get in position for the field-goal attempt. For the game, Griffin was 26-of-35 for 323 yards and rushed seven times for 43 yards, including one rushing touchdown.

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The Houston Texans were dominant again. The Texans improved to 4-0 with their third win by 20 points or more. The lone victory by less than that margin was last Sunday in Denver, when the Texans led comfortably for most of the contest until Peyton Manning staged a furious comeback.

Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner's season, which included a DUI arrest, had been mostly a bust until Sunday. Turner had an impressive effort against Carolina, finishing with his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and even scoring on a 60-yard pass play. Not counting a season-ending effort last season against a Tampa Bay team that had given up, this was Turner's first 100-yard performance since Nov. 20 against Tennessee. In six of Turner's final seven games last season, including a playoff loss at New York, he averaged 3.2 yards per carry. He looked extremely slow and dead-legged. That wasn't the case Sunday.

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The Miami Dolphins should have won in regulation if not for the third miss in two weeks for kicker Dan Carpenter. Still, the work of wide receiver Brian Hartline can't be overlooked. He had 12 catches for 253 yards and one touchdown. Fellow wide receiver Davone Bess had seven for 123 yards as rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill continued to be impressive (he was hit on the play that resulted in his overtime interception). Hartline has always been a great straight-line speed receiver and Tannehill has the kind of touch on deep passes to take advantage of Hartline's skills. Impressive stuff against a dominant Arizona defense.

Speaking of Arizona, a tip of the cap to Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, who again rallied the team. This time Kolb led the game-tying drive to force overtime. Yeah, he had two picks, but his three TD passes made up for it.

After the controversial Week 3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, including coach Bill Belichick's $50,000 loss of decorum, the Patriots looked like they were on their way to their third consecutive loss early in the second half at Buffalo. New England was down 21-7 before quarterback Tom Brady took over. The Patriots scored 35 consecutive points (part of a 45-7 overall run) to rollover the Bills. (Buffalo has allowed more than 40 points twice this season despite spending so much to improve the defense and switching to coordinator Dave Wannstedt).

The St. Louis Rams' 19-13 win over the Seattle Seahawks may not have been a matchup of offensive juggernauts, but even with quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Sam Bradford on the field, you'd think that the lone touchdown pass of the game would have come from someone other than Rams punter Johnny Hekker. Nice work by Hekker, who was serving as the holder on the fake field goal.

Is that really the Minnesota Vikings sitting atop the NFC North at 3-1? Good stuff from a suddenly impressive defense that kept both Matthew Stafford (30-of-51 for 319 yards, but five sacks) and Calvin Johnson (a season-low five catches for 54 yards) under control.


What can you say about Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert at this point? He looks lost in the pocket and downright scared at other times. He completed 23-of-34 passes for a paltry 186 yards and one touchdown during the 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He was sacked six times and intercepted once. This was against a Cincinnati defense that was without its top four cornerbacks and had been torched for an average of 34 points in its first three games. While Gabbert deserves some patience, particularly as he works in a new system under first-year head coach Mike Mularkey, some of the things he didn't do well a year ago haven't changed one bit.

For everybody who was so glad to see the old refs back in place, I hope you realize that the bad calls are just as bad right now. The good folks of Green Bay certainly can tell you that after they barely saw the Packers survive another harrowing matchup with the zebras. Jeff Triplette and his crew missed an obvious fumble on a kickoff return by Darren Sproles with just less than seven minutes left. The Saints ultimately missed a field goal in the closing minutes, but you could imagine Packers coach Mike McCarthy was about to do something really dangerous to himself or others if Green Bay hadn't won that game.

While on the subject of refs, I have to admit, there are some things about the replacement refs I miss. As reader Scott Dennison noted last week, there was something thrilling about watching a game all the way to the end and still not being sure who won.

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For all the people who love Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, please cool your jets. Yes, Wilson has promising ability. But after his three-interception effort on Sunday, he is averaging less than six yards per pass attempt. That's not terrible for a rookie, but it's not exactly the diamond-in-the-rough stuff that people out of the Northwest (that's you, coach Pete Carroll) have been trying to sell the rest of us. Wilson might become a really good player. But let's give him time.

Sorry to all those Oakland fans who were arguing with me about how good the Raiders were going to be, but the situation went from bad to worse during Sunday's loss in Denver. In three of four games, the Oakland offense has looked putrid. The running game that looked so good last year has disappeared because former coach Hue Jackson isn't calling the plays and the defense is a wreck. Peyton Manning completed 30-of-38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a game that looked more like a seven-on-seven drill for him. You know, the type of practice where the defense isn't allowed to touch the quarterback.

People in Buffalo were feeling good after wins over Kansas City and Cleveland the previous two weeks. Then came the second-half blitzkrieg by New England and the situation doesn't get much better. The Bills have four of their next five games on the road, including games at San Francisco and Arizona in back-to-back weeks. Along the way, defensive end Mario Williams has been held without a sack in three of four games.

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