By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 16, 2005

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Please tell us you haven't penciled Matt Cassel in as your projected Super Bowl XL MVP.

Patriots/Saints
Close-Up
Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Thursday 8/18/05
7:30 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
Fox
WFXT-TV 25
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 945
2004 Team
Records:
Patriots 17-2
Saints 8-8
Latest Line: Patriots by 4
The guy who many think may be the second coming of Tom Brady may ultimately turn out to be the second coming of Michael Bishop. Nothing like a projected fourth string quarterback to light up Patriot Nation with a great performance against Bengal scrubs, making everyone rest easy if Brady should go down with an injury. If nothing else, Cassel is solid proof that Pete Carroll made the right decision to take the USC job after he lost the Patriot job.

Everyone who is still agog at the nice job Cassel did last Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati needs to settle down and change their focus for Thursday night's matchup with the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium. Based upon some reports that have emanated from both camps, as well as trying to decipher exactly what Bill Belichick means when he talks, don't expect another Cassel showcase when the two-time Super Bowl champs play at home for the first time in 2005.

The biggest news, if you can call it that, and if it is indeed true, is the rumour that Belichick and Saints head coach Jim Haslett have reached an "agreement"¯ to play their starters into the third quarter. This is something that usually happens in the third matchup rather than the second (the Patriots play at Green Bay next Friday night). It is not clear the reasoning behind this "understanding"¯, and there is no concrete proof that this will actually happen. But it has made the rounds enough to be at least somewhat credible.

That said, we'll hedge our bets and gameplan for both eventualities. Starters play long or short, either way, what to look out for isn't all that different.

When you start hearing Belichick being called the same things his former mentor, Bill Parcells, used to be called, you might figure that they have begun carving Belichick's bust in northeast Ohio. Michael Felger of the Herald, speaking on New England Sports Tonight, called Belichick "disingenuous"¯ while discussing Brady's situation and status for Thursday night. Brady did not play at all during the 23-13 Patriot win last Friday in the Queen City, and there was much cause for alarm as to the condition of Brady's throwing arm. Felger took issue with how Belichick has presented Brady's situation and used the classical Parcells adjective to describe his informing the media of Brady's condition. To this we can only say that Belichick is being Belichick, and you and I really don't need to know until Thursday night.

If this were the regular season, I wouldn't want Haslett to know, either.

As for the rest of the quarterback mess, Doug Flutie will get some snaps on Thursday. He'll either play the second quarter or the fourth. Cassel may get some spot duty. The real issue here is whether or not Rohan Davey has lost his job as a Patriot. While Cassel at times showed too much reckless abandon on some of his scrambles and came close to some interceptions, the bottom line is that he looks terrific out there while Davey still looks clumsy with a cannon for an arm but with lousy aim. Davey may ultimately be looking to become someone else's number three quarterback before long.

There were some issues last week with the offensive line. If the starters play long, a lot of look-see will take place at the right tackle position. Logan Mankins will be left out there merely to cut his teeth and learn his job. But Tom Ashworth and Brandon Gorin need to get with it and show a decent battle for the position. Ashworth and Gorin, who both can say they have started a Super Bowl, didn't really impress that much, especially the rusty Ashworth. Rookie Nick Kaczur has something to say about this battle also, though it is not likely that he will win the starting job come opening night.

Some folks wondered out loud about the defensive strength of the Patriots up the middle. You have Chad Brown learning the position, Dan Klecko coming to the end of his rope as far as being able to fit in with this team, no real backup for Vince Wilfork, and Mike Vrabel, who is being asked to try out the inside on an experimental basis, injuring his ankle on special teams on Friday night. That leaves Monty Beisel, the free agent from Kansas City who perhaps might have won defensive MVP honors Friday night. He showed great explosiveness to the ball and laid the stick of the night on Chris Perry. While it is not yet known if he has the game instincts of a Tedy Bruschi, he did have a good first game and will be looked at more closely on Thursday night.

With everyone raving about Randall Gay and Asante Samuel in the secondary, and with Duane Starks coming up with a near pick, one man who needs to step up and do a better job of impressing the coaches is rookie Ellis Hobbs. Hobbs had an uneven, mostly adverse, game Friday night where he was burned on several plays. Asking him to cover Chad Johnson in his first NFL test is asking a bit much, to be fair, but had this been a real game and had Hobbs been on Johnson all game long, it would not have been pretty. Hobbs needs to work on getting better angles in zone coverage, and simply needs to absorb the feel of the game at this level a little better. This is not a hatchet job on Hobbs, but if he has to cover Joe Horn at any time, he could be exposed again.

As for when the "scrubs"¯ come in, watch and see how much Bam Childress and Kory Chapman are featured. Neither of these guys figured to make the final roster, and training camp almost always brings out these kind of guys who have great preseason games against second and third units playing vanilla defenses, and you are left to wonder "Gosh, how can Belichick cut this guy?"¯ Childress might invoke memories of Dane Looker or Sean Morey, while Chapman might remind you of Frank Johnson. A real treat would be to see how these guys would fare against a first defensive unit, but don't expect that to happen.

The Saints don't come here very often. Their last visit was in 2001, a rainy 34-17 Patriot win which was better known as the first of eight straight wins to close out that season, including a win over St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI. It was Brady's second game as a starter with Drew Bledsoe sitting healthy on the bench and able to play. The Saints have come here six times with the teams splitting those six games. The 1976 game was notable in that the Patriots nailed down the AFC Wild Card berth with a 27-6 win at Schaefer Stadium.

So, how is Brady? Instead of trying to decode Belichick, watch Thursday night and merely see for yourself.


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