KANSAS CITY -- As he was flanked by reporters in the visitors' locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night, peppered with questions about his time in Kansas City, Matt Cassel seemed less interested in rehashing what went wrong than nearly anyone else in the room.
To Chiefs fans, Cassel's time in Kansas City represents a failed experiment, which began with the team trading for the quarterback and signing him to a six-year deal in 2009 and ended, at least symbolically, with fans cheering Cassel's concussion in a home game. That experience seasoned the Vikings-Chiefs preseason game with a heavy dose of the Cassel-gets-redemption storyline, as he returned to Kansas City once again poised to claim a NFL starting quarterback job.
The 32-year-old quarterback wasn't officially awarded the job on Saturday night -- though the Vikings operated as though he'd be their starter on Sept. 7 -- and even if he had, he probably wouldn't have found much reason to boast about it. He said again on Saturday night he had "no ill will" toward the Chiefs, who cut him after the 2012 season, pointing out that all three of his children were born in Kansas City and mentioning the close friends he still had in town. Still, his long touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson in the first quarter had to carry some extra meaning, didn't it?
"It was a great way to start the game, there's no doubt about it," Cassel said. "To come in here and get going, we were backed up on our own three, and then to be able to get going like that and hit a long play, it was great."
That's about the most Cassel will let on about what the game meant to him, and there's not much reason he should be anything but diplomatic about his exit from Kansas City. He didn't perform well enough to play out a contract that would have paid him more than $62 million, and he rightly pointed out things would have been different if he and the Chiefs had won a few more games.
"I've been in it long enough to know that if you don't win, normally, they make changes," he said. "They did, and I was really happy to see they had a lot of success."
Cassel has been able to move on, too, and it seems he'll at least begin the season with the starting job. Officially, the Vikings' quarterback competition is ongoing, but when Cassel throws 17 passes, Teddy Bridgewater throws seven in just over a quarter of work, and Christian Ponder again doesn't play, the pecking order seems clear. Cassel's performance on Saturday night might have actually been his worst of the preseason; he hit the long touchdown to Patterson -- on a play the receiver said has typically gone to Greg Jennings in practice -- lofted a pretty sideline throw to Jennings and could have had better numbers if not for a couple drops, but he forced a deep throw to Jerome Simpson for an interception and could have been picked off on an out route to Jennings.
He's got the arm to play in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, as he's demonstrated by a number of downfield throws this preseason, but he'll also get burned by taking some chances at times. He's only had two seasons -- his breakout year of 2008 and his Pro Bowl season of 2010 -- where he's averaged less than an interception per game. Still, Cassel has done a solid job of running the Vikings' offense in the preseason without Adrian Peterson, and it'd be a surprise not to see him start when the Vikings return to Missouri on Sept. 7 against the Rams.
If his continued work as the Vikings' starting quarterback on the other side of the state -- and in his former home stadium -- gave him a sense of payback on Saturday, Cassel wasn't showing it. Perhaps his experience the last time he was in this position helped him to appreciate it more than to flaunt it.
"I love Kansas City," Cassel said. "At the same time, football sometimes just doesn't always work out the way you want it to. There's a multitude of reasons behind that, and I wish we could have changed a lot of that -- mainly the outcome of just winning more ballgames."