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Chief Concerns? TE Moeaki Lost for Season; Rib Injury Clouds Status of QB Cassel for Week 1 vs. Bills

As the curtain gets closer and closer to going up on the opening of the 2011 NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs will be without a key supporting actor and could be missing one of their lead actors when the season commences next Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills.

The news isn’t good from the defending AFC West champs and it all stems from last Thursday’s preseason finale in Green Bay.  QB Matt Cassel and TE Tony Moeaki were both injured in the second quarter of last Thursday’s game against the Packers in which Chiefs head coach Todd Haley elected to have his starters go deeper into the game after using them sparingly through the first three games of the preseason.  Now, in hindsight, the decision may turn out to be disastrous. 

In a developing story, The Kansas City Star is reporting that Chiefs starting QB Matt Cassel has a rib injury, leaving his status up in the air for next Sunday against the Bills.   Cassel injured his ribs in the second quarter of the Chiefs’ preseason finale against Green Bay when he was sacked hard by Packers lineman Howard Green, who tips the scales at 340 pounds.  Green landed on top of Cassel, which caused some obvious discomfort.  He exited the game immediately following the play and did not return.  The Chiefs downplayed the incident, saying that Cassel just had the wind knocked out of him. 

If the Chiefs are without Cassel on opening day or for an extended period of time, his absence will knock the wind out of their sails.  Should Cassel be a no-go on Sunday against Buffalo, that will thrust Tyler Palko into the starting quarterback role which would be his first career start in the NFL. Palko, 28, has bounced around the NFL since 2007 with New Orleans, Arizona and Pittsburgh. 

The good news for the Chiefs is that they have a full week of practice and preparation to determine if Cassel’s availability.  It’s still very premature to say whether or not he’ll be able to play or not.  Rib injuries tend to limit both breathing the ability to get comfortable.  Depending on the severity of the injury and Cassel’s threshold for pain, I’ve got to believe if the pain is at all bearable we’ll see Cassel under center on the Chiefs’ opening series.  It’s also likely that the Chiefs will fit Cassel with some type of protective vest or flak jacket during practice this week.  How Cassel responds in practice in the days leading up to Sunday’s game will go a long way in determining his ability to play.

The Chiefs didn’t put on a very good showing in their one game Cassel missed in 2010.  They were blown out 31-0 by the Chargers in San Diego and gained just 67 total yards.  If Cassel is ruled out for the opener, it’ll mark the second time in three seasons that he’ll miss the season opener.  Cassel also missed the season opener in 2009 in Baltimore and was relegated to spectator as the Chiefs lost to the Raves 38-24.  In both of Cassel’s absences, Brodie Croyle was the starting quarterback.

Again, I caution you Bills fans.  We are still a long way from officially ruling Cassel out for Sunday’s games.  It’s likely we’ll be monitoring Cassel’s status right up until kickoff.   However, we do know that the Chiefs will be without their starting tight end for not only Sunday, but the entire 2011 season. 

The bad news is that TE Tony Moeaki is lost for the season with a torn ACL.  Originally thought to be a minor injury, Kansas City now must go through the season without their second-year tight end.  As a rookie,  Moeaki was a favorite target of Cassel’s in 2010 and a great security blanket catching 47 passes for 556 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Further complicating Kansas City’s problem is that without Moeaki, the Chiefs do not have another dynamic or reliable target at the tight end position.  It’s likely the Chiefs will scour the free agent wire and add another tight end to the roster.  For now,  Leonard Pope moves in the starting role.  Pope had just 10 catches for 76 yards and two scores in 2010.

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