We here at Modern Jackass have struggled for some time now with exactly how we feel about this Matt Cassel fellow. When Tom Brady first went down in Week 1 with a torn ACL, we were hysterical. The era of New England dominance is over! we cried. Nothing could quell our despair. Then, in Week 2, when Matt Cassel emerged to cautiously but definitively best the New York Jets, we deemed him a hero—the unsung everyman who could single-handedly keep his team’s Super Bowl hopes alive. When Week 3 rolled around and New England was crushed by the (once) comically inept Miami Dolphins, we became angry and dejected, and declared that Cassel was simply a red herring; a mirage of greatness that would only squander our hopes of NFL glory, all the while staring blankly out of those hurt, soft doe eyes.
But perhaps we were overreacting. After a bye following the Miami loss, New England returned to beat the San Francisco 49ers on the road, restoring faith in New England fans that perhaps all might not be lost. I mean, it’s not like the Niners are a good team or anything, but we’ll take what we can get at this point. On the heels of that victory, we felt like we might just be able to put the Chargers away. Leading up to yesterday’s game at Qualcomm Field in San Diego, we eagerly sipped Miller Lite tall boys and thought we were in for an evenly-matched game of hard fought, quality footballing.
We were wrong. As you are probably aware, the Patriots got routed 30-10 in one of the most pathetic displays of incompetence in professional sports since, well, the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in Week 3. Essentially, the entire ethos of the current iteration of the New England Patriots can be summed up by a first and goal situation at the one early in the third quarter last night. After three botched attempts to move the ball a single yard, Belichick opted to go for the touchdown on fourth down, in lieu of settling for a field goal. I mean, I guess I can understand where he was coming from. With New England down 17-3 at this point, a touchdown would’ve sent a message along the lines of, “oh, you think we don’t have nuts? Well, we’ve got nuuuuts.” The problem with delivering this nut message, though, was that New England had no momentum at this point, no fire, and was only on the goal line as a result of a fluke 28-yard pass from Cassel, which, as we all now know, is clearly an anomaly in the QB’s usual arsenal of ineffectual screen passes at the line of scrimmage.
So what happened? Oh, I think you know. Cassel darted around gingerly in the pocket for a moment, and then, just as it looked like he was going to pass to a wide-open Benjamin Watson in the end zone, he pranced forward a few steps, looking like he might try to sneak it in (oh, how we held our breaths and clenched our tall boy cans!), and then was handily sacked for a loss of a yard. No points. What had been intended as a display of ballsy, maverick (yes, I said it) football strategy was immediately transformed into a sad ploy of utter desperation.
This drive set a similarly tragic tone for the rest of the game. New England completely fell apart on offense, and we witnessed Matt Cassel’s mental stamina and physical capability slowly disintegrate on possession after lackluster possession. He couldn’t connect with receivers, he was unable to read the defense—ever—and he finished the outing with no TDs, an interception, and a measly passer rating of 61.6. Yeesh.
Even as an ardent New England fan, there came a moment last night when even I had to step back and light-heartedly acknowledge the absurdity of our situation. I think it dawned on me around the seventh or eighth time Cassel obediently jogged off the field after a disappointing drive, emotionless in a way that only the stony, cold-hearted Bill Belichick can effectively instill. We are witnessing one of the most dramatic breakdowns of a formerly dominant team in recent memory—and oh, what a spectacle it is. After a while, I stopped yelling at Cassel for sucking so hard, and genuinely felt sorry for him. The man was expected to live up to Tom Brady, but we all knew deep in our hearts that it was impossible from the get go. You can’t just stroll in and be Brady—I don’t think there’s another man on earth, let alone an NFL quarterback, who can remove his helmet after sixty minutes of bone-crushing physical endurance and still have hair that looks that incredible. The man is simply in a league of his own, and once my anger at the events of last night’s game had waned a bit, I came to terms with that fact. Cassel is not Brady; he’s not even Mark Bulger. He’s just a dude who’s in way over his head, and despite the fact that he’s destroying one of the greatest dynasties in football history, ya gotta feel for the man. He’s doing his best.
With our Super Bowl hopes all but out the window, maybe we’ll be lucky enough to witness a complete mid-season Bill Belichick breakdown, an episode where he finally drops his robotic sideline manner and just freaks-the-fuck-out, throwing shit, ranting and raving like a mad man in his three quarter length sleeves. In the absence of, ya know, an actual football team, that sure would be something to watch.