KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Romeo Crennel stepped to the podium in the auditorium beneath Arrowhead Stadium after another embarrassing loss and announced that Matt Cassel will remain the Chiefs’ starting quarterback.
The fact that the Kansas City coach made the stark declaration without anybody asking the question spoke volumes about Cassel’s performance the first four weeks of the season.
The embattled quarterback has thrown a league-leading seven interceptions, including three first-half picks in Sunday’s 37-20 loss to San Diego. He has also fumbled the ball away three times, and was bailed out of another apparent fumble by the officiating crew.
Cassel was showered with boos throughout the first half Sunday, but was greeted by something much worse by the time the fourth quarter rolled around: silence.
The vast majority of the crowd had already headed for the parking lots.
“Even after he had those turnovers, he came back and drove the team down the field, so we think he’s capable,” Crennel said Monday. “We just have to get him to be more consistent.”
Crennel balked when asked whether he considered putting in backup Brady Quinn, but it slowly became clear that the coach of the Chiefs (1-3) has become less enamored of his starter heading into next Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
“At some point, you go through and see what’s happening in a game, how guys are reacting, and how he’s responding in a game,” Crennel said. “If you feel he’s inept, constantly making bad decisions, poor choices, that’s when you move on from him and give someone else a chance.”
Cassel already has had plenty of chances.
Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli has stood behind what he believes to be his franchise quarterback ever since acquiring Cassel from the New England Patriots for Mike Vrabel and a second-round draft choice, and signing him to a $63 million deal that included $28 million guaranteed.
It was Pioli, then with New England, who drafted Cassel in the seventh round in 2005.
The problem is that with the exception of a banner 2010 season, when he led the Chiefs to an improbable AFC West title, Cassel has mostly played like a seventh-round draft pick.
He is 19-24 as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, completing just over 57 percent of his passes for an average of just over 200 yards per game — pedestrian numbers by just about anyone’s standards. He’s been particularly bad the past two seasons, throwing a pick every 27 attempts.
Cassel’s season to date was encapsulated by Sunday’s game against San Diego.
His third pass attempt was badly underthrown, allowing Chargers Eric Weddle to undercut the rout for an interception. That gave the Chargers excellent field position and resulted in a field goal that made it 10-0.
His other two interceptions came on consecutive possessions later in the half.
The first was thrown so far behind Tony Moeaki that all the tight end could do was try to get his hands on it. The ball wound up deflecting into the arms of San Diego linebacker Donald Butler, who returned the interception untouched 21 yards for a touchdown and a 27-6 lead.
The other interception should have been caught by Dexter McCluster, but the short crossing route was thrown with so much zip that the ball ricocheted off his hands.
One of the most damning assessments of Cassel may have been made by Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget, who said, “We knew we had to put the game in Matt Cassel’s hands.”
“It starts with me,” said Cassel, who added that he was never approached by Crennel about making a quarterback change. “I’ve got to do a better job of protecting the football and putting our team in a better situation to be successful.”
Pioli has promised the past couple seasons to bring in a quarterback to compete with Cassel for the starting job. But last year, the alternatives were fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi, at least until Kyle Orton was claimed off waivers late in the season — when Cassel had broken a bone in his throwing hand and landed on injured reserve.
Quinn, who’s with his third team in three years, was brought in as the backup this season, and so far Crennel hasn’t made the move to his bullpen — even if he’s silently considered it.
“Well, whether I was considering it or not doesn’t make a difference. It’s hypothetical,” Crennel said. “I didn’t make the change and I’m staying with that.”