FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Any quarterback’s first NFL start can be intimidating. Now consider Tyler Palko’s challenge.

The spotlight of Monday night football. On the road. Against a strong New England Patriots team coming off its best game of the season.

The journeyman who spent time in three pro leagues will start for the Kansas City Chiefs in place of Matt Cassel, who could be lost for the season following surgery Monday night on his throwing hand.

Palko was too busy studying to think how nervous he’d be.

“I’m so loaded up with trying to get the game plan down and making sure we’re doing everything on our end to make sure we’re ready and prepared,” he said. “I think probably when you get to the field on Monday night and you realize it’s game time, I guess that’s maybe when the nerves will start to happen.”

And with good reason.


He’ll face defensive end Andre Carter, who had four sacks in last Sunday night’s 37-16 win over the New York Jets, and linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who returned one of his two interceptions in that game for a touchdown.

He’ll also have to beat the fourth highest scoring team in the NFL and last year’s MVP Tom Brady.

The Chiefs are 4-5 after losing their last two games but just one game behind the first-place Oakland Raiders in the AFC West. The Patriots (6-3) lead the AFC East.

The last time they met, in the 2008 opener, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury and was replaced by Cassel, who had thrown 39 passes in three years as a backup. Cassel was traded to the Chiefs after the season.

Now he’s sidelined — replaced by a quarterback who has thrown 13 NFL passes — ending a chance for a head-to-head matchup between former teammates.

“There’s nobody that goes through a football season and doesn’t get injured. You just hope it isn’t really a permanent injury,” Brady said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s as tough as anybody I’ve ever been around. I was disappointed for him that he won’t be able to be out there. I obviously have plenty of things that I need to worry about with our offense.”


The Chiefs are missing other key offensive players with running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki on injured reserve.

Now, without Cassel, Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t expect the Chiefs offense to change much.

“I think Tyler is very similar to Cassel, except (Palko is) left-handed,” he said. “The same type of guy, a hardworking guy that is smart, that has a lot of confidence. I think they have a lot of confidence in him. … I would be surprised if they would change too much.”

The Chiefs hope the results change. In their last two games they lost 31-3 to Miami, which had been winless, and 17-10 to Denver.

“The task at hand is to try to beat the Patriots and it’s a heck of a task for us,” Palko said. “Everybody on the team that night is going to need to be locked in and focused on one goal and that’s winning the football game because these guys that we’re facing on Monday night, they’re no slouch.”

Palko wasn’t drafted in 2007 after starting for three seasons at Pittsburgh. He signed with and was cut by New Orleans that year and was out of football in 2008, In 2009, he was with the Arizona Cardinals, the California Redwoods of the United Football League, the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League and the Pittsburgh Steelers.


He threw his first NFL pass last year with the Chiefs.

“You set a goal and my goal was to be a starter in the NFL and I’m getting my opportunity right now,” Palko said. “I’m not saying it’s been easy because it hasn’t, but if it’s something that you want to do and you want it bad enough, then you’re going to do anything you can to stick around.”

He’ll face a defense ranked last in the league overall and against the pass for each of the last eight weeks. But, despite injuries to key players like linebacker Brandon Spikes, safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Devin McCourty, that defense is improving.

“The secondary has had some injury issues that they continue to fight through, but they’re a competitive, tough group that makes plays at the right time when they need them most,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said.

Palko may have one advantage. The Patriots don’t have much game film of him to study.

“You’ve got to go back to preseason tape and see some of the things that he did,” said Ninkovich, who was cut by the Saints on Sept. 6, 2007, the same day Palko signed with them. “It’s going to be a little bit different.”


Brady should know the Chiefs defense well. Romeo Crennel is their defensive coordinator, the same job he had with the Patriots from 2001-04.

“It’s what we do on defense,” Brady said, “so there’s a lot of familiarity.”

The Patriots backups to Chung and McCourty are untested. So if they remain sidelined, that could help Palko.

But Belichick coached the Patriots to their most dominant performance of the season last Sunday night with a defensive lineup that included two undrafted free agents making their first pro starts.

“One of the key things to being a great coach in this league, at any level really, is to develop your players that aren’t necessarily front-line players, but then are ready to play when they need to,” Haley said. “I don’t have any doubt that (Belichick) and his staff will have that done.”

It remains to be seen if Haley and his staff did that with Palko.


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