As a born-and-raised New Englander, I was obviously devastated last weekend when Tom Brady went down with a season-ending torn ACL in the first quarter of a 17-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Suddenly, New England had dropped eight slots in the Power Rankings, was considered the underdog in a Week 2 road contest against Brett Favre and the NY Jets, and could no longer rely on the relentless sexiness and pocket-square-wearing fashion sense of their star quarterback to help guide them to victory.
Enter Matt Cassel. While the fourth year backup QB hadn’t started a game since his senior year of high school, he has had the unique experience of working directly under one of football’s all-time greatest QBs (this career trajectory seems to be working just fine for Aaron Rodgers), which certainly couldn’t have hurt his ability to throw a spiral. Additionally, Cassel’s childhood baseball team made it to the Little League World Series in 1994, which gives him some sort of bizarre extra boost of credibility. Ok, you have my attention, Matt Cassel, but will you be able to lead your ailing juggernaut of a team to victory in the biggest game of your life?
Yes, you will. Cassel and the Pats bested the Jets 19-10 at the Meadowlands yesterday afternoon in a game that, while it wasn’t flashy, demonstrated Cassel’s ability to perform under pressure, and his promise for improvement as the season continues to unfold. Cassel went 16/23 and 165 yards, and threw no interceptions. In fact, Cassel’s numbers were remarkably similar to those put up by Tom Brady in his first start against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3 of the 2001 season. What Cassel lacked in big playmaking, he made up for in poise and focus during a game in which he knew his performance would be highly scrutinized. With two (hopefully) manageable outings against Miami and San Francisco in the next few weeks, Cassel should be able to be further familiarize himself with the Pats’ offense and grow more comfortable in the pocket. Sunday’s victory doesn’t let Cassel off the hook by any means, but if it’s at all indicative of his ability to deliver in high-pressure situations, look for the Patriots to be nearly as dangerous this season as they would be with a healthy Tom Brady at the helm. Nearly.
As I watched yesterday’s game, terrified, at first, that the New England offense would simply implode without Brady’s guidance, I found that I was comforted not only by Cassel’s performance, but by his demeanor on the sideline. Throughout the afternoon, Cassel kept his gaze intently on the action, innocent and stoic, doe-eyed yet resolute, quietly carrying the burden of expectation that has been so abruptly thrust upon him. And while he doesn’t have the swagger of a Brady or the heroic, American masculinity that Brett Favre so effortlessly exudes, Cassel possesses the vulnerability and brittle determination of a true Everyman—a man who understands the crippling adversity he must endure, but who forges ahead in spite of it. Look for Cassel to continue to blossom into his role as Real American Hero in the weeks ahead.
Bring on Miami. We’re going to the big show this year, bitches.