Long, short of it at QB
Cassel goes deep, and executes small stuff
SAN FRANCISCO - Matt Cassel may never be confused with Tom Brady, but he showed yesterday he can make some of the same plays as his highly decorated teammate.
Cassel, much to the delight of the fans back in New England, finally took some shots downfield to Randy Moss as the Patriots took on the San Francisco 49ers. But he also made the kind of plays on third down and in the red zone that have come to define the quarterback position for the Patriots this decade.
The long and the short of it is it all added up to a 30-21 win before a crowd of 67,650 at Candlestick Park, quite a few of whom were family and friends rooting on Cassel as he made his first NFL start in his home state.
"I just feel that week in and week out we continue to mature and play better," Cassel said. "It's because of the defenses and how you kind of know where you want to go, and build chemistry with the players and receivers and running backs. Hopefully, it'll continue to be a building block for me."
This was a certainly a game to build off as Cassel took on an increased workload while helping the Patriots improve to 3-1.
Cassel was 22 of 32 for 259 yards with one touchdown, a 66-yarder to Randy Moss in the first quarter. The attempts, completions and yardage totals were all career bests.
Cassel was sacked five times and intercepted twice while getting away with a couple of other ill-timed throws. All in all, though, he and his teammates were pleased with the effort.
"We're getting back to doing what we do and Cassel is getting more confident and it's showing," receiver Jabar Gaffney said. "He did a heck of a job out there today."
It didn't take long to see the Patriots were ready to get a little more liberal with their play calling after being fairly conservative in the first three games.
On their third play from scrimmage, Moss went long and Cassel wasn't looking anywhere else but to his lanky receiver. But Cassel got hit as he unloaded the ball and linebacker Takeo Spikes came up with an interception.
Undeterred, the Patriots went the same route two series later. This time it paid off as Moss split defensive backs Nate Clements and Walt Harris, ran under the ball at the 21, and strode untouched into the end zone for 66 yards and 6 points as the Patriots tied the score.
"I think that's just what we've been waiting on," Moss said of the reception, his longest as a Patriot. "To really open up the offense a little bit more and get the ball downfield to make other plays work."
All told, Cassel completed 10 passes of at least 10 yards. There were other plays he executed that weren't as impressive in distance but went a long way toward securing the victory.
The Patriots were 2 for 3 in the red zone and 8 for 17 on third down for a conversation rate of 47 percent. They started the day ranked 28th in the league in the former and 11th in the latter.
The Patriots closed the first half with a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took 2:58 and gave them a 17-14 lead on Kevin Faulk's 2-yard run with six seconds left. All things considered, it was arguably the most impressive drive of the season for Cassel and his mates.
"I'm just happy we were able to execute and make the play," Cassel said of the overall offensive effort. "It all comes down to situations. It's situational football. Whether it be third down, in the red area, or fourth [down] in the red area. Those are the most important parts of the game and that's what we're always talking about."
The Patriots found themselves in a crucial situation with about six minutes to play and holding a 27-21 lead. It was third and 20 at the San Francisco 44 following a Moss penalty that wiped out a big gain and a first down by Welker.
But Cassel found Gaffney for 13 yards, pulling the Patriots back into field goal range. Stephen Gostkowski converted his third field goal of the day to push the advantage to 30-21 and give the visitors some breathing room.
"We needed about 10 yards to get a field goal," Gaffney said. "The defense dropped back and Cassel did a great job of hitting me."
Cassel may not be confused with Brady, but the two have at least one thing in common - and that's a winning record.