September 14, 2008
Cassel, Patriots Donít Miss A Beat
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you could use one word to sum up the 19-10 Patriot win on Sunday at the Meadowlands, that word would be this: methodical.
Matt Cassel played a near-perfect game, doing exactly everything he had to do to give his team a chance to win. The defense withstood a few long gainers from Brett Favre and the Jet offense and took advantage of costly penalties and a costly interception. The Patriots were still able to stifle their hated enemy in their crib once again, and overall it looked like nothing at all has changed despite no Tom Brady at the helm.
About the only thing Cassel couldn't do was to avoid sacks and make red zone throws. But he did everything asked of him, and did it generally well. He looked confident and in charge out there, making good throws and no stupid plays. Some of his throws were really good throws, though none of them were of the astounding, thread-the-needle variety. The main thing here is that Cassel didn't make plays that lost the game, but rather managed the game well enough for the Patriots to win.
Back to the key word of the day, that being methodical. On both sides of the ball, the Patriots showed a ton of patience, and took a measured approach in defeating the Jets. On defense, the Patriots did manage two sacks of Favre but basically played a conservative defense which focused more on receiver coverage than attacking Favre and enabling him to get into his scramble style. And on offense, nothing really flashy, just steady-as-she goes.
If there was one area where the Patriots needed to play better, it was in rushing on both sides of the ball. The Jets as a team averaged 5.0 yards per carry, running behind a terrific offensive line that boasts former Patriot Damien Woody, now playing right tackle (he was a mostly center with the Patriots). Holes were opened up, and at times initial tackles were not made. The Patriots themselves were bottled up rushing the ball until LaMont Jordan saw significant playing time in the second half. Jordan turned into a human wrecking ball with 62 yards on 11 carries, and helped kill off a lot of clock in the fourth quarter much like Corey Dillon did four years ago.
A good run attack will take the pressure off Cassel, but at times it almost seemed unnecessary. Except for a lousy series to open the third quarter where he was sacked on two of the first three plays, Cassel hung in there and made efficient throws. The one play he threw deep, he threw off balance deep left to Randy Moss in the fourth quarter, who ran by Darrelle Revis. The wobbly throw still made it to Moss, but he dropped it after leaping over Revis to try and make the play. It was a ball Moss should have caught, but it turned out to be inconsequential.
Statistically, Cassel slightly outplayed Favre. Cassel finished with 16 of 23 passing for 165 yards and an 89.9 passer rating. The rating would have been much higher had Cassel thrown at least one touchdown pass. Favre had 18 of 26 passing for 181 yards and a touchdown. He did have the one pick, a third quarter interception which led to the Patriots' only touchdown of the afternoon. Favre's interception to Brandon Meriweather was the first pick he has thrown against New England since 1994.
Favre was hurried and hassled on occasion, but overall the Patriot defenders handled the receivers well, and at times the receivers let Favre down with key drops. Laveranues Coles had two key drops to offset his 54-yard catch in the second quarter which set up the first Jet field goal. The leading receivers for the Jets, Chansi Stuckey and Leon Washington, had only four catches each.
Special teams also favored the Patriots greatly. One guy who may get a ton of game MVP votes would be Stephen Gostkowski. He hit on all four of his field goal attempts, but on all six kickoffs he boomed the ball into the end zone. The Jets' average starting field position was their own 21. On the other hand, Jay Feely missed a 31-yard field goal on the opening drive of the game for the Jets, pushing the attempt wide right and ruining a nice 11-play, 72-yard drive. It took the momentum away from the Jets, and the crowd was stone silent for most of the contest.
Penalties hurt the Jets in spots. The Jets were flagged six times for 60 yards. Favre was able to overcome two penalties in the third quarter on consecutive plays (holding on Woody and Favre throwing a pass from beyond the line of scrimmage) thanks to a 28-yard throw to Stuckey on third a 22. But on the next play, Jerricho Cotchery was guilty of interfering with Deltha O'Neal in trying to make an interception, and two plays later Favre threw his pick to Meriweather. On the final scoring drive of the day for the Patriots, a roughing the passer was called on Calvin Pace, which put the Patriots into field goal range.
If the Patriots can continue this kind of disciplined approach to football, they will be very tough to beat with or without Brady. The season-ending injury to Brady may have galvanized the Patriots to the point where the injury turns into a positive rather than a negative. What was supposed to have been a possible "Super Bowl hangover" season for the Patriots will not be anything such this season. Last year, the Patriots went 16-0 with Brady. The team this year has found a new mission, and thus far they have embraced that mission with open arms.
Beating Kansas City last week was decried by some, the thought being how bad a team the Chiefs are. The Jets, on the other hand, are a familiar division foe, made much better in the offseason with quality players added to the team, and the Patriots had to do this in the Jet crib instead of their own. Granted, in recent years the Patriots play the Jets better in New Jersey than in Foxborough, but this win was far more impressive than last week in every way, and it bodes well for the Patriots when the tough part of their schedule comes up later (games at San Diego and Indianapolis, two separate west coast two-week trips).
The Patriots have now won 21 regular season games in a row, extending their NFL record. They get Miami at home next week, 0-2 and 31-10 losers at Arizona on Sunday, then have a bye week. The Patriots have the next several weeks lined up just fine, and have survived the early tests of life without Brady just fine.
Meanwhile, Eric Mangini must be scratching his head. The Jets swore they wouldn't take the Patriots lightly and still lost by nine at home. No Brady, and still no win.
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