KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The very picture of a journeyman quarterback, left-handed Tyler Palko has spent time with four NFL teams. He played in four games and threw 13 passes, all coming with his team hopelessly behind.
But he's the Chiefs' starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. That became reality Monday when the Chiefs discovered what coach Todd Haley said was a "very significant injury" to the throwing hand of Matt Cassel.
Cassel injured his right hand late in Sunday's 17-10 loss to Denver at Arrowhead Stadium. Haley wasn't optimistic Cassel would return this season.
"That's a possibility," said Haley, who also indicated Cassel would probably need surgery. "I wouldn't say it's an absolute.
"There's some optimism, but with each person that varies. Being a quarterback and being the hand he throws with, that's a difficulty."
The Chiefs would place Cassel on the injured-reserve list, officially ending his season, if they determined he wouldn't be able to play again this year. They hadn't yet made that move.
They also could sign a veteran quarterback to their roster. Rookie Ricky Stanzi, who hasn't played this season, has been the Chiefs' third quarterback.
"It's been a fluid situation," Haley said. "I'm just trying to get a full evaluation and feel comfortable with the direction we're going right now. At this point right now, we're not there yet."
No matter what the Chiefs do with Cassel, Palko will start Monday night's game against the Patriots in New England. He replaced Cassel for their final possession against Denver, completing five of six passes for 47 yards and guiding the Chiefs to a field goal.
The Chiefs declined to re-sign last year's backup, Brodie Croyle, or acquire a different veteran backup going into the season. They'll find out in New England whether that was a good decision.
"We feel good about Tyler, or he wouldn't be here and he wouldn't be our number two," Haley said. "In his case, there's not a lot of regular-season action to go on, but I feel like he's done a great job while he's been here of developing and getting better. He's got a great understanding of how our offense works and what his role within it is. That showed yesterday just in the little opportunity he got. He did a good job of stepping in and understanding what had to be done and executing."
Palko was undrafted out of college at Pittsburgh and joined the Chiefs last year after he was released by the Steelers. He previously spent time with the Cardinals and Saints.
At just 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, he doesn't have the typical size for an NFL quarterback. His style is somewhat unconventional. He's shown a willingness to bolt the pocket at the first sign of trouble rather than hang around and wait for something to develop down the field.
He scrambled once for 8 yards against Denver.
"Tyler has a high, high football IQ," Haley said. "He grew up in football. His father is a high school football coach in western (Pennsylvania). He's a very competitive person and that translates into his quarterback ability. That competitiveness is a very good trait to have.
"He's athletic and has the ability to use his feet to make plays, which I think we witnessed (Sunday). I'm not comparing him to Tim Tebow in any way, but he is athletic and he can increase your margin of error at times when you have an extremely athletic quarterback."
Given the Chiefs' problems in adequately protecting Cassel in recent games, Palko's scrambling ability could be put to use against the Patriots. Cassel was sacked nine times in the last two games and was hit or knocked down on several other pass attempts.
"Offense is an 11-man operation," Haley said. "It's easy to draw conclusions about areas of the team and areas of the offense when there's a sack. But it falls on everybody's shoulders. Everybody has to be doing what they supposed to do on each play that's called. The last two weeks, nobody has done a good enough job of doing that."
Palko was a three-year starter in college at Pitt. But Monday night's game will be Palko's first in the NFL with anything on the line.
"There's so much that goes into playing quarterback that at least in my mind, I don't have any time to really think about it," he said. "Probably when we get up there and the lights are on, you'll probably have a, 'Wow, this is really happening,' moment.
"Nothing is going to change on my end. I'm going to come in here and prepare like I've done before."