KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Todd Haley hasn't left much doubt, and he started this week by trying to quiet the suggestions that Matt Cassel isn't up to the job as the Chiefs' starting quarterback.
No, Cassel didn't respond well a week after being benched in a blowout loss to Denver. No, he didn't avoid the one thing that Haley has suggested is a quarterback's mortal sin, failing to protect the football, in Sunday's loss to Buffalo.
The losses keep coming, and the questions have grown louder. But Haley reiterated, during his weekly news conference, that Cassel's ability and long-term prospects are not among the Chiefs' many shortcomings.
"I thought Matt did some real good things in that game," said of Kansas City's 16-10 loss to the Bills. "It's easy to pile on the quarterback."
Cassel hasn't done much to make it any less easy. Haley benched the 27-year-old passer against the Broncos after Cassel amassed a 14.6 quarterback rating. He threw two interceptions and passed for zero touchdowns. Cassel said he'd have to be better.
He did, but in the same way that no milkshake is better than a milkshake with pieces of glass in it. Cassel's rating was 35.4. He still threw zero touchdown passes but had four interceptions instead of two.
But he finished the game, so there's that, and Haley spent part of Monday saying that Cassel is the Chiefs' man... and he'd keep on being the Chiefs' man... and, yes, the interceptions were unfortunate... and, sure, Cassel could've been better in some of those situations ... but, come to think of it, most of those bad throws weren't even really his fault.
"I think there's one decision we'd like to have back," Haley said. "I was overall pleased with the majority of the quarterback play."
Two of those intercepted passes had been tipped, and two came late in the fourth quarter when Kansas City was desperate for a go-ahead touchdown. Several receivers dropped open passes, too. So it wasn't just Cassel.
But as the Chiefs continue waiting for Cassel to show signs that he offers something more than leadership, intensity and a name on the receiving end of a long-term contract, he's running out of games to quiet the doubt that might just follow him into the offseason.
He's also the nerve center of an offense that has spent 13 games trying new things, searching for an identity, licking its wounds, and taking stock in the small victories — "We overcame a penalty or two," Haley said — and not offering much proof that improvement is ongoing. For his part, Cassel now has as many interceptions, 13, as touchdown passes.
But Haley seems comfortable that Cassel has it in him to be great, or at least better than he has been. The coach said that the offense could have been more efficient Sunday, could've lined up more quickly, could have gotten organized without having to rush as often. But those weren't shortcomings attributed to the quarterback.
"Matt was doing what he was supposed to do," Haley said.
The Chiefs and Cassel now have three games remaining to salvage something from a season that hasn't offered much in the way of hope, and seems to be on the verge of losing whatever optimism it gained so many weeks ago when Cassel and Kansas City won three times in a five-game stretch.
"I don't have any doubt we're making progress," Haley said. "It's tough when you look at the record and see that. But I just have to go by what I see on a daily basis and see what I see during the game, after the game, certain responses by players, desire of the players to get better and do the right thing. We're making progress."
It's just not easy to see, from the Chiefs and occasionally from Cassel. But if Haley has made one thing clear, it's that the team believes in its quarterback. No, he might not be perfect. But he's it.