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Cassels return spurs respect from coaches, players
spt ap Cassel
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel throws during the first quarter of NFL action against the St. Louis Rams last Sunday in St. Louis. - photo by AP Photo

Today, Noon, CBS

OPENING LINE — Chiefs by 4½
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Tennessee 7-7; Kansas City 8-6
SERIES RECORD — Chiefs lead 27-20
LAST MEETING — Titans beat Chiefs 34-10, Oct. 19, 2008
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Kerry Collins going for third consecutive game with passer rating of more than 100. Needs 94 yards passing to become 12th QB with 40,000 yards. ... Last time Titans played in Arrowhead, RB Chris Johnson drew laughs and $15,000 fine for barging up to band behind end zone after 66-yard TD run and playing bongos. ... Titans have beaten Chiefs two in a row. ... Jeff Fisher’s 272nd game will tie Joe Gibbs for seventh place on NFL’s all-time list by coach of one team. ... WR Justin Gage needs 42 yards receiving to reach 3,000. ... Marc Mariani needs 5 yards on kickoff returns to set Titans season record. ... Chiefs win would set franchise record for one-year turnaround with six-game improvement. In 1962 and 2003, Chiefs had five-game turnarounds. ... Jamaal Charles leads NFL with 6.42-yard average per carry, shade better than NFL record of 6.40 by Jim Brown in ‘63. ... Chiefs lead NFL in rushing, 168.6 yards, and rushing differential, 61.6. ... Chiefs, Falcons and Patriots only teams still unbeaten at home. ... Chiefs and Steelers have held opponents to 14 yards or fewer seven times, best in NFL. ... Charles ranks third in NFL in rushing, Johnson fourth. ... Last week, Thomas Jones became third active player with 10,000 yards rushing and has 844 consecutive touches without a lost fumble, second-longest streak among active players behind Tony Gonzalez.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Matt Cassel did no favors for anyone who has an emergency appendectomy, then asks the boss for a few weeks off.
Cassel returned to the field 11 days after the operation, throwing for 184 yards and a touchdown in Kansas City’s crucial 27-13 victory over St. Louis last Sunday. The iron-willed quarterback also ran for 17 yards in a game that his wife practically pleaded with him not to play.
As a result, the Chiefs remain in first place in the AFC West heading into today’s game against Tennessee and Cassel — already having a Pro Bowl-type season — grew in stature in the eyes of his coaches and teammates.
“I respect him even more,” hard-to-please coach Todd Haley said. “You even saw him tuck and run when he could have been dumping it to backs. I’m very proud of Matt.”
Cassel did throw an interception when two targets managed somehow to bump into each other — an obvious mistake by the receivers. But he still has only five picks to go with 24 touchdown passes — a plus-19 differential that’s second in the NFL to Tom Brady.
And, according to Cassel, Sunday’s interception was his fault.
“I’ve got to do a better job of not stuffing it in there,” he said Wednesday. “Even if somebody messes up on a route or anything like that, you can’t be careless with the ball and I think I got careless in that situation.”
If the Chiefs (9-5) win today, they’ll have a six-game improvement from last year and a franchise record for a one-year turnaround. They’ll also be one win away from clinching their first AFC West title since 2003 and Cassel, more than anyone else, has been the driving force.
In his second year as KC’s starter, he’s hit 227 of 383 passes for 2,687 yards, good for a 96.2 rating that’s third in the AFC and fifth in the NFL. His leadership, calm and steady game management have held the Chiefs together throughout this turnaround season.
“I think Matt Cassel’s playing great,” Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins said. “Everybody talks about some of the other guys. I can’t see that another quarterback is having a better year than him. He’s making the throws. He’s not making big mistakes. He’s just winning ballgames, and they’re playing well as a unit.”
Now his grit has elevated his status even higher.
“Philip Rivers had ACL surgery on a Monday and came back and played the next game when I was with the Chargers,” Chiefs wide receiver Chris Chambers said. “We lost that game. But ever since then, everybody had a different feeling about him. This guy’s that courageous to come out here after surgery.
“And that’s what Matt did. You forgot he’d had surgery until you saw the stitches. He’s just about the toughest player in this locker room.”
He told his teammates he did not want any special favors and he intended to play the game the same way.
“Not one time did he mention anything or even (suggest) that he may have been in any kind of pain,” guard Brian Waters said. “We appreciated that. To be honest, I didn’t expect anything less.”
Cassel was talking about getting right back onto the field as soon as he “became coherent” following the surgery, Haley said. He did sit out the next week — a humiliating 31-0 loss in San Diego with backup Brodie Croyle at quarterback.
Now Cassel is back and feeling better than ever.
“No pain. No soreness. Nothing,” he assured reporters with a big grin.
No one tried harder than Lauren Cassel to get her husband to take one more game off.
“There was more worry in her voice than I’ve heard in a long time,” Matt Cassel said. “But I told her I’m OK. She said she would be praying for me and everything would work out for the best.”