Orton comes through for Chiefs in first start
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
KANSAS CITY (AP) — It’s common practice across the NFL to bring the starting quarterback to the podium for a weekly news conference. It often beats the alternative — a bunch of reporters and cameramen crowded around his locker.
Kyle Orton’s never been a podium-type guy.
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback would rather hang out in the locker room while someone else gets the spotlight, which turns out to be an awfully good metaphor for the way he approaches the game.
“The quarterback gets so much of the credit and so much of the blame,” Orton said. “You play long enough at this position, it’s tough to play well, really good, unless the guys around you are playing good, and they’re not getting the credit, the quarterback is, and that’s hard to see.”
Orton has had a hard time avoiding the spotlight this week.
In his first game as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, Orton set a career high by completing 74.2 percent of his passes (23-of-31) for 299 yards in a 19-14 upset of the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers. His average of 9.65 yards per attempt was his most in more than two years.
It was the kind of performance that caught everybody by surprise, considering Orton arrived in Kansas City shortly before Thanksgiving after he was cast aside by the Denver Broncos and picked up off waivers following a season-ending injury to Chiefs starter Matt Cassel.
Orton had only played one snap for the Chiefs, a few weeks back at Chicago, when he was hit throwing a pass and dislocated the pointer finger on his throwing hand. Part of that was because former coach Todd Haley stuck by Tyler Palko, despite his inability to lead the team to touchdowns.
But when Haley was fired and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel elevated to interim coach, one of the first things he did was declare Orton his starter. He came through against the Packers with one of his finest performances in recent years, his yardage total trailing only a 304-yard effort in the Broncos’ season opener and his 104.1 quarterback rating his second best of the season.
“The thing I knew about him was he was a pro quarterback, and has played in games in the NFL before, and had a good arm, and those things we knew about him,” Crennel said. “But we didn’t know how it would play out on game day, and it played out very well.”
Orton hardly looked like someone who hadn’t started a game since Week 5, helping the Chiefs set a season-high for total yardage in one of the biggest upsets of the season.
He spread the ball around to 10 different receivers, proved calm in the pocket and displayed a boyish enthusiasm when he would complete long passes down the seam, proclaiming after the game it was “about the most fun I’ve had on a football field.”
“I came out of the game feeling pretty good, and the good thing is we did some good things on offense,” Orton said. “Hopefully last week was just kind of the starting point and we go from there.”
The starting point may have come in the nick of time.
The Chiefs’ playoff condition has gone from critical to serious with their win over the Packers. They still need to beat Oakland on Saturday and Denver in their season finale, and have the Broncos lose at Buffalo this weekend and the Chargers lose one of their last two games.
If all that transpires, though, Kansas City will win another surprising AFC West title.
Orton refuses to look too far down the road, though. He knows there’s a chance a lot will be on the line when the Chiefs play Denver in the final week of the season. He also knows he’ll become a major part of the storyline, along with Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, the guy who supplanted him as the starter and ultimately led to his release from the team.
But for now his focus is squarely on the Raiders, who went through their own quarterback shuffle earlier this season when Jason Campbell went down and Carson Palmer came aboard. Raiders coach Hue Jackson said he’s been impressed by the job the Chiefs have done integrating Orton into the offense, though he wasn’t necessarily surprised by his success.
“They’ve simplified their offense to give him a chance,” Jackson said. “Kyle has a big arm, he can throw it. And they have some big targets to throw it to.”
Orton has been saddled with a polarizing reputation, the guy everybody loves or loves to hate, with little ground in between. He doesn’t understand that, and said that teammates in Chicago, Denver and now Kansas City would probably have a different opinion.
One thing is clear. If he can somehow keep winning, fans in Kansas City will only love him.
“I’m a pretty quiet guy, love to play football, love to spend time with my teammates and my family and that’s pretty much it,” he said. “Just never been about the media aspect of the game.”