Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City  |  Last updated 10/3/11
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When all is said and done, we will look back to the five-minute mark of the second quarter, after Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel lamely spiked the ball on a third-and-goal at the 6-yard line and the Chiefs settled for another field goal, as the turning point. Surely, the play -- and, more to the point, the play's fiery aftermath on the sidelines -- will be seen as the turning point in the Chiefs' 22-17 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings. But we may also end up seeing what transpired on the sidelines as the moment that changed the Chiefs' season. Not to mention the moment that may change the tenuous Chiefs career of Cassel, as well as the equally tenuous Kansas City coaching tenure of Todd Haley. Because after Cassel's incomplete pass, when it seemed like he gave up on the play before it fully developed, the coach motioned Cassel over with his finger. And the quarterback and coach got in each other's face. And Cassel showered his coach with what appeared to be at least two profanities. And the boo birds rang out in sunny Arrowhead Stadium. And fullback Le'Ron McClain got in between the two men who were supposed to be the leaders of this squad, an exasperated look washing over McClain's face as the quarterback swatted away his hand and walked away. This moment seemed to be the perfect metaphor for the Chiefs' season: The one play where all the frustrations of a 0-3 start exploded to the surface, the moment the wheels definitively came off for this injury-wracked team, the official beginning to the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes in Kansas City. Except after that, something strange happened. Matt Cassel turned into a real quarterback. Todd Haley and his staff coached flawlessly. And soon the Chiefs were celebrating in their locker room, their 2011 season no longer a lost cause. Here's what happened after that sideline blowup: Cassel went 15 for 22 with 202 yards. He finished the game with a 102.7 passer rating. The Chiefs learned that the long rectangle at the end of the field is called an end zone, and they found it, courtesy of a 52-yard Cassel hitch-and-go to Dwayne Bowe. Then in a press conference afterward, both coach and quarterback pretended like they barely remembered that sideline moment that seemed to light a fire under these Chiefs. Haley wore a Chiefs hoodie, a dirtied Chiefs cap and several days' scruff. He looked like a beaten-down man, but his words were optimistic, speaking of perseverance and bouncing back. As far as their sideline exchange? "I don't know specifically the time we are talking about," Haley said, sounding rather disingenuous. "We do certain things in games. We have to make sure we're all on the same page You're going to have some emotion and feeling, but the critical thing is that now and throughout my past as a coach with a number of players is that you get on the same page and you get it right. Perhaps Haley just wanted to look past that momentary sideline controversy and focus on the win. Perhaps he was cognizant that his boss, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, was sitting 20 feet away. Or perhaps he was just flush with relief that those calling for his ouster would be quiet for at least one more week. "I tell all these guys, You say what you feel, because I'm going to,' " Haley said. "The important thing is that we move forward I'm going to coach you hard. They know it, they understand it, they respect it. But I say to them, You have a right to say what you want.' " As far as Cassel, he didn't give any more insight into the sideline dustup than Haley did. "To be completely honest, it was such a long game, I don't remember the specifics of it," a smiling Cassel said. "It is a heated game, a heated discussion, and you need to move forward. That's what our team did. And that's what I did. You know, those things happen. They happen throughout the year. They happen constantly It's just part of the game." Three hours before, this is where these men stood: A beleaguered coach whose injury-ridden team seemed to be spiraling out of his control, and whose contract would run out at the end of this year. A quarterback who had seemed inept since the end of last season and whose fans were calling for a new face. A franchise that entered 2011 with potential but so far only had three losses to show for it, two of them blowouts. A team that already had six players on the injured reserve, including a franchise running back, a Pro Bowl safety and a promising young tight end. As the Chiefs walked off the field as victors, though, the television network flashed a piece of trivia: The only NFL team to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start was the 1992 San Diego Chargers. The Chiefs knew that ugly note could have been referring to them, but instead it was Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, not Haley, who whose picture flashed on the television screen. It was Frazier, not Haley, who was answering reporters' questions about whether he'd bench his quarterback. It was the Chiefs' train wreck that had gotten back on the tracks, the Vikings' train wreck careening even further off course. The Chiefs problems, of course, are far from solved. Their injury problem can only get worse. Their quarterback has still not proven himself as worthy of his six-year, 63 million contract he signed in 2009. Their coach is still at the helm of a 1-3 team that, after next week's game at Indianapolis and then a bye week, has a beast of a schedule for the rest of the year. But instead of staying as one of the NFL's winless teams, the Chiefs came out of Sunday's "Desperation Bowl" with a boost. With their backs against the wall, with their quarterback and coach at each other's throats, they played their best football all year. "I seem to respond well when I'm pushed to win, my back's up against the wall," Cassel said. "I'm proud of this team. How they've responded to some adversity early on this season. These guys continue to stick together. We're not going to fold."
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