KANSAS CITY (AP) - Kyle Orton finished dressing after the Chiefs' loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night, and then turned to face reporters for the first time since he was claimed off waivers from the Denver Broncos.
At the very same moment, Tyler Palko brushed past the scrum that had gathered around Orton, on his way to a sparsely attended postgame news conference, his four-turnover effort having contributed largely to a 13-9 loss that gave Kansas City a four-game losing streak.
It was a telling image about where the Chiefs' future lies.
Embattled coach Todd Haley said Monday that Palko remains the starter, but he acknowledged Orton will be given every opportunity to win the job before Sunday's game at Chicago.
"Tyler's the starter," Haley said, "but as we do every week and with every position, if we feel Kyle or Ricky (Stanzi) gives us a chance to win, we'll make that determination."
The Chiefs have been scrambling to find a replacement for Matt Cassel, who joined Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles on injured reserve after hurting his throwing hand late in a loss to the Broncos on Nov. 13.
They chose not to bring in an experienced backup during training camp, electing to stick with Palko and Stanzi, their fifth-round draft pick. Palko was given the reins of the offense last week at New England and threw three interceptions in a 34-3 loss. And when Orton didn't arrive in Kansas City until Friday, the team had no choice but to start Palko against Pittsburgh.
The journeyman quarterback, who was once cut by a UFL team, wound up fumbling a snap and throwing two interceptions in a span of three offensive plays. His third interception happened in the closing seconds as Kansas City tried to march downfield for a go-ahead touchdown.
"Tyler knows he cannot be careless with the football," Haley said. "That being said, throughout the game, a lot of the things Tyler did gave us a chance to win that game."
The things he did were also the biggest reason they lost.
"It's just execution," Palko said afterward. "Four turnovers today and how many last week, three? Seven turnovers in two games is unacceptable. We're shooting ourselves in the foot."
Haley refused to say whether Orton could have learned enough of the offense to be available to run the two-minute drill, but he did say the former Broncos and Bears starter will be able to get up to speed in time to compete for the starting job this week.
"I don't think that's an issue, really. When you talk about Kyle, you talk about a really bright football guy," Haley said. "That won't be an issue. More along the lines of who can run the offense most efficiently given how we're built."
Orton said his goal is to help the Chiefs (4-7) reach the playoffs, something that is still possible in the weak AFC West, incredible as that sounds. But he won't be able to do that unless he's able to grow comfortable with the personnel and playbook in just a few days' worth of practice.
"Yeah, it's difficult. Not only just trying to learn the offense but trying to get the timing with everybody and get the familiarity with everybody," Orton said. "I'm just going to take whatever role I have on the team and try to do the best I can."
Orton said he's committed to helping the floundering Chiefs, who have a brutal stretch of five games remaining, despite the fact that he'll be a free agent after this season.
The Chiefs certainly thought enough of his ability to help out that they were willing to assume the roughly $2.6 million left on his contract for a stretch of games that includes trips to the Bears and Jets, home games against the defending Super Bowl champion Packers and AFC West-leading Raiders, and the regular-season finale at suddenly perky Denver.
"I don't expect anything but to work hard and learn the offense and try to fill any role that I can," Orton said. "It's just a matter of trying to get to know my teammates and get to know the system as well as I can and help any way that I can."