KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Matt Cassel stood on the sideline helplessly, watching backup quarterback Tyler Palko run the Chiefs' two-minute offense. He'd been bruised and battered by the Denver Broncos, so much so that the Kansas City training staff wouldn't let him play.
The ugly truth was that Cassel didn't do much when he was on the field Sunday.
None of the Chiefs did.
"I was a little banged up, so that's what kept me out," said Cassel, who refused to discuss any details of the late-game decision. "I wanted to go but I was told not to."
Palko led the Chiefs to a field goal in the closing seconds, but Denver recovered the onside kick to seal the win. Palko said he didn't know why he was told to go into the game, and Cassel vowed that he'll be ready for next Monday night's game against New England.
"He was beat up there at the end. He was unable to go physically," said Chiefs coach Todd Haley, when pressed about Cassel's injury. "We'll have to see as the week goes on, but it was physical."
He sure wasn't very effective, though.
Cassel was 13 of 28 for 93 yards and a touchdown, and the Chiefs managed 258 yards of total offense, a performance every bit as ugly as last week's 31-3 loss to Miami.
"A lot of people will assume the world has ended for our team, the season has ended," Haley said. "It's a four-horse race, the season is going to continue on, and we're in a position where if we come out and play better football we'll be in position, as we are now."
Denver was won three of four since coach John Fox made Tebow the starter.
Scrapping a large chunk of his playbook and putting in an option-style attack, the Broncos have somehow made it work. Tebow finished 2 of 8 for 69 yards, but added 44 yards and a score on the ground against a defense that knew what was coming.
"It's a very frustrating place to be in when you know what they're going to do and you still can't stop them, at least consistently enough," safety Jon McGraw said. "Even when their two running backs went down they kept going and had success with it."
Journeyman Lance Ball wound up carrying 30 times for 96 yards.
"We did a good job of in running," Tebow said, "keeping them off balance."
Denver took a 7-0 lead on Tebow's touchdown run in the first quarter, and pushed the advantage to 10-0 at halftime when Matt Prater knocked through a 38-yard field goal.
Meanwhile, Cassel was 4 of 9 for 29 yards in the first half, and Kansas City had five first downs and a measly 72 yards of total offense.
Rookie wide receiver Jon Baldwin tried to give Kansas City a spark when he hauled in an acrobatic 58-yard pass in the second quarter, reaching around safety Brian Dawkins to make the grab. Baldwin held onto the ball, still behind Dawkins' back, as both players fell to the ground, but the play was called back because wide receiver Steve Breaston had lined up illegally.
Kansas City finally scored when Cassel hit Le'Ron McClain on a play-action pass from just outside the goal line midway through the third quarter. It was the first points scored by the Chiefs' offense since 12:01 left in the fourth quarter against San Diego two weeks ago.
The Broncos snuffed out the comeback bid with 6:44 left in the game, when Tebow hit Decker for the long touchdown. Succop's field goal wound up being moot when Denver recovered the onside kick.
"We're just trying to be efficient and do what it takes to win in this league," Fox said. "There's a formula that was worked over many years and we were able to move the chains. We should have gotten a little more than 17 points, but it was enough for us to win."
Notes: Chiefs DE Glenn Dorsey left late in the game with an undisclosed injury. ... There were no turnovers in the game, though a fumble by Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster was overturned after video review. ... Palko was 5 of 6 for 47 yards while running the Chiefs' no-huddle offense that set up Succop's field goal. ... Von Miller had seven tackles and 1½ sacks for Denver.